Guzman and Milton and Mays, oh my!
From today’s perspective, the summer of 2001 might as well have been another lifetime ago: United States soil had not yet been breached via the air by terrorists. Tick-tock was the sound your bedside alarm made. Conspiracy theories? Those were reserved for the season finale of The X-Files.
A funny thing did happen that two-decades-ago summer, however: the Minnesota Twins emerged from nearly a decade of Twinkie-dom (ensconced in the cellar of the AL Central) to become an exciting ball club. As a result, Minnesota sent Eric Milton, Joe Mays, & Cristian Guzman to Seattle for the annual Midsummer Classic.
Guzman was an electric young shortstop whose average hovered around .300 and perpetually led the league in triples. Milton had been paired with Brad Radke to give the Twins a solid 1-2 punch atop the rotation. Mays? Well, Joe Mays came out of nowhere (he was pretty raw/bad in ‘99 & ‘00) to ultimately win 17 games, throw 233 innings, and post a 143 ERA+.
The 2001 All-Star Game—at the park formerly known as Safeco Field—was largely a tribute to Cal Ripken, Jr., who was playing in his 19th consecutive (and self-imposed final) All-Star contest for Joe Torre’s AL squad. Right away in the first inning, AL starting SS Alex Rodriguez swapped spots with Cal (voted in at 3B) to allow him to play the position he made famous. Not only that, but Ripken homered off Chan Ho Park in the 3rd inning to open the scoring for the Junior Circuit.
In the top of the 5th inning, the Twins made their presence known. Mays trotted in from the bullpen to face the heart of Bobby Valentine’s NL lineup: Larry Walker, Mike Piazza, & Chipper Jones. He set the big boppers down 1-2-3!
The bottom of the same inning saw Ivan Rodriguez single off Mike Hampton to score Jason Giambi (hilariously pinch-running for John Olerud) and extend the AL lead. The Senior Circuit struck back in the top of the 6th, however, when Jeff Kent’s leadoff double came around to score on a Ryan Klesko sacrifice fly off Mike Stanton.
The comeback attempt would prove short-lived, as Jon Lieber entered for the NL and immediately served up back-to-back home runs to Derek Jeter & Magglio Ordonez to make it 4-1 AL.
In the bottom of the 7th, Guzman entered the game as a pinch hitter and struck out on three pitches against Matt Morris (yikes). That would prove to be the last Twin-sighting of the evening, as Milton did not appear in the contest.
After Troy Percival & Kazuhiro Sasaki combined to close things out, the AL reigned supreme with a 4-1 victory in the midst of what would ultimately be a 13-game unbeaten streak for that league.
As a child watching the Twins starting in the mid-90s, I was accustomed to the obligatory one All-Star each summer. Thus, in 2001 I distinctly remember how cool it seemed to have three players in the white Twins pinstripes on the biggest baseball stage.
Of course, as is often the way of things in baseball, teams/players never quite turn out exactly how they are drawn up: The ‘01 Twins faded badly down the stretch and missed the playoffs. Milton peaked as a Twin in ‘01 and was traded a few years later. Guzman would never hit .300 again (at least until he became a Washington National). Mays never had another sub-5.00 ERA and couldn’t fully come back from a mid-2000s Tommy John surgery.
But on that one star-studded baseball night in the Pacific Northwest, the Twins franchise proved it once again belonged in the majors and was not an afterthought or laughingstock.