2006 American League Division Series 2
|2006 MLB Postseason|
|AL||NYY - DET||OAK - DET||STL - DET|
|MIN - OAK|
|NL||NYM - LAD||NYM - STL|
|STL - SD|
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The Minnesota Twins were fourth in the AL Central as late as June 13th, found themselves 12 games back of first place on July 15th, were in third place on September 2nd, and never once led the division. Yet, after beating the Chicago White Sox on the final day of the season, the Twins passed the Detroit Tigers and won the division crown. It was a remarkable charge to the top. The Oakland Athletics took a different route to the playoffs, taking over the division lead on June 15th and only surrendering first place once - for a single day - after that point.
In some ways the A's and Twins were similar teams. Both were from small markets with financial constraints, and yet both found ways to compete year in and year out. The Twins were appearing in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, while it was the fifth postseason in seven years for the A's. The two had met in the 2002 ALDS, with the Twins winning in five games. The Athletics had changed a lot since then, and so did the outcome.
The Oakland Athletics
The A's offense featured two powerful bats and a cast of role players. Frank Thomas was playing for a team other than the Chicago White Sox for the first time in his career, and rewarded Oakland with 39 home runs. Nick Swisher finished second on the team with 35 home runs. Eric Chavez battled nagging injuries all season; he finished with a .241 average and 22 homers. Jay Payton was the team leader in average at .296 and also paced the A's with 32 doubles.
Barry Zito was the last member of the Big Three still pitching in Oakland; he posted a 16-10 record with a 3.83 ERA, best among the team's starters. Danny Haren won 14 games and struck out 176 opponents. Esteban Loaiza won 11 games, tossed two complete games, and had the most experience of the group. Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer were a formidable pair at the end of the bullpen. Street saved 37 games as closer, Duchscherer posted a 2.91 ERA in set-up duty.
The Minnesota Twins
The Twins boasted a very balanced and capable offense. Justin Morneau won the MVP Award with a .321 average, 34 home runs and 130 RBI's. Joe Mauer's .347 average was best in the American League and his .429 OBP led the team. Torii Hunter smashed 31 homers and continued to be one of the league's best defensive center fielders. Michael Cuddyer had a breakout year with 24 home runs and 109 RBIs. Second baseman Luis Castillo stole 25 bases, most on the team.
The pitching staff was led by ace lefthander Johan Santana. Santana won 19 games, owned a 2.77 ERA and struck out 245 batters. Francisco Liriano dominated opponents when he was healthy, but an injury cost him the postseason. Boof Bonser and Brad Radke each got a start in the series. Bonser was 7-6, 4.22 in 18 regular-season games, while Radke was 12-9. Joe Nathan's ERA was 1.58 as closer, and he struck out 95 hitters in 68+ innings.
Game 1 @ Metrodome
Athletics: 3, Twins: 2
|WP: Barry Zito (1-0), LP: Johan Santana (0-1), SV: Huston Street (1)|
- Attendance: 55,542
Fans at the Metrodome could not have asked for a better match of starting pitchers. Two of the league's top southpaws, Johan Santana and Barry Zito, were facing off in Game 1 of the best-of-five series. Santana's record was 1-1 in six prior Divisional Series games, while Zito was 3-2. The Twins faithful had a reputation for making their dome loud and unhospitable for visitors, giving them what appeared to be a distinct advantage in the first two games.
Neither team was able to get on base in the 1st inning, but the A's got the ball rolling in the 2nd. Frank Thomas took Santana deep to lead off the inning; it was Thomas's first postseason home run since the 1993 ALCS. Marco Scutaro hit a double with two outs that scored Jay Payton for the second run of the inning. Zito held tight to his 2-0 lead, the Twins did not get their first hit until the bottom of the 5th.
Santana ran into more trouble in the 7th. Thomas picked up a single to start the inning. An error by Twins' shortstop Jason Bartlett allowed Eric Chavez to reach safely, and finally, Santana walked Nick Swisher with one out to load the bases. The ace on the mound buckled down and retired Scutaro and Mark Ellis to get out of the jam though.
Rondell White put the Twins on the board with a home run off Zito in the bottom of the 7th inning. They threatened in the 8th when Bartlett hit a lead-off double, but Zito guided the Athletics out of trouble. The A's added an insurance run in the top of the 9th and it was 3-1 when Ken Macha brought in his closer, Huston Street to close out the game. Street surrendered a triple to Michael Cuddyer; it was the only hit of the inning. Cuddyer scored on a ground out, but it was not enough for Minnesota. The A's won the first game, 3-2.
Game 2 @ Metrodome
Athletics: 5, Twins: 2
|WP: Kiko Calero (1-0), LP: Pat Neshek (0-1), SV: Huston Street (2)|
- Attendance: 55,710
For several years, the Athletics' rotation was stocked with the league's best arms, including Game 1's starter, Barry Zito. In 2006, the Game 2 starter would not be Mark Mulder or Tim Hudson; instead it was Esteban Loaiza: a journeyman playing for his seventh team. The Twins could not counter with a proven ace of their own. Boof Bonser took the hill for Minnesota, a rookie with seven career wins under his belt. It was hardly the Barry Zito-Johan Santana match-up that fans enjoyed in Game 1.
The two pitchers started off well, keeping the game scoreless through the first four innings. Bonser was the first to fold. Nick Swisher started off the top of the 5th with a double. Marco Scutaro followed with a double of his own to put the A's ahead, 1-0. Jason Kendall made the score 2-0 with an RBI single. The Twins battled back to tie the game at 2-2 in the 6th. Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau were responsible for the rally, as they led off the frame with back-to-back home runs.
Pat Neshek replaced Bonser in the 7th inning. The deceptive right-hander gave up a single, and retired two hitters. Dennys Reyes was called in from the bullpen to face Mark Kotsay. Kotsay hit an inside-the-park home run to give the A's a 4-2 lead. Swisher doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the 9th inning, widening the gap to 5-2. For the twins, the tying run, Nick Punto, came to the plate with two outs in the 9th. Huston Street got Punto to pop it up for the third out. The A's took a two game lead in the best-of-five series.
Game 3 @ McAfee Coliseum
Athletics: 8, Twins: 3
|WP: Dan Haren (1-0), LP: Brad Radke (0-1)|
- Attendance: 35,694
Billy Beane's teams were more often famous for what they did not do than what they actually accomplished. They blew several series that looked wrapped up in their favor. Not once had they advanced past the first round. With history on their side, the Twins may not have been in panic mode before Game 3. Danny Haren was on the mound for the A's, and Brad Radke, the Twins' most reliable pitcher over the past decade, was going for Minnesota. On this day, the A's would win their first playoff series since 1990.
Eric Chavez, the Athletics' steady third baseman, went deep in the bottom of the 2nd to put Oakland ahead, 1-0. Jay Payton singled and then scored on a double by Marco Scutaro. Milton Bradley made the Twins pay for an error in the 3rd inning by blasting a two-run homer off Radke. Through three innings, Oakland led the Twins, 4-0. Torii Hunter hit a solo home run in the top of the 4th to make it 4-1.
Ozzie Guillen took to calling the Twins "pirrhanas" because of their scrappy play. It looked like they were on the verge of fighting back into Game 3 after an RBI single from Rondell White made the score 4-2. The A's held strong, though, and pulled away in the bottom of the 7th. Dennys Reyes retired the first two hitters, then walked Frank Thomas and Chavez. Jesse Crain came in from the pen. Jay Payton reached on an error to load the bases. A walk by Crain scored one run, and a Scutaro double drove in three more. The lead was now an insurmountable 8-2.
|Major League Baseball American League Division Series