On paper, the Twins 1990 season appears to be terrible as they finished in last place for just the 3rd time since divisional play began in 1969. Despite their record, the Twins had their share of bright spots. Aguilera was converted from starter to stopper in the bullpen and responded by recording 32 saves. Right-hander Scott Erickson made the jump from Orlando (AA) to the Twins in June and finished the season strong, going 8-4 with a 3.27 ERA.
Brian Harper established himself as one of the game's best hitting catchers as he hit .294 and had the Majors' longest hitting streak of the season, 25 games. Shane Mack, acquired in the Major League draft in December 1989, provided a surprising spark as he was one of the teams most dependable hitters (.326) and showed good speed on the bases (13-17 stealing bases) and chasing down balls in the outfield.
The Twins also got in the record books in 1990. On July 17, in Boston, the Twins did something that had never been done in the history of Major League Baseball: They turned two triple plays. In the fourth inning, with the bases loaded and Erickson pitching, former Twin Tom Brunansky hit a sharp grounder to Gaetti at third, who stepped on the bag for the force out, fired to Al Newman at second and his relay to Hrbek was in time to get Bruno at first. In the eighth inning, with John Candelaria on the hill and runners on first and second, Jody Reed hit a one-hopper at Gaetti who again started a 5-4-3 triple play.
After the Twins' most successful spring training ever at their new spring home, at the Lee County Sports Complex in Ft. Myers, Fla., the club sputtered out of the starting gate, beginning the year 2-9 on two brutal West Coast trips. But Kelly's ship was soon righted, and behind the spectacular pitching of Scott Erickson, who won a club-record 12 consecutive games, the Twins soon closed the gap on first-place Texas and began to make their move as June rolled around.
The 1992 season saw the continuation of the success of the previous year. The Twins went 90-72, their third 90-win campaign in the last five, and it was accomplished with some record-setting individual and team accomplishments. Despite that, however, the Twins couldn't catch the Oakland A's and finished in second place.
Kirby Puckett reached 200 hits for the fifth time in his career and again reached 100 runs and 100 rbi, while hitting over .300 for the seventh time in nine seasons. But the highlights for many Twins fans came with his three grand slams, the first of his long career and good enough to tie the club record. He was twice named American League Player of the Month and his offense led the way all season long. Chuck Knoblauch and Shane Mack each established themselves as top-notch players, as they joined Puckett by scoring 100 runs to become the first trio of Twins to score 100 in team history. On September 1 at Detroit, Rick Aguilera notched his 109th save to become the Twins' all-time saves leader, and on September 27, Tom Kelly won his 523rd game as Twins manager, more than any other skipper in team history.
The Twins finished the 1993 season with a 71-91 (.438) record, which left them tied for fifth place with California. Rick Aguilera was named American League Pitcher of the Month for June; on the other end of the spectrum, Scott Erickson led the Majors in losses (19). Kent Hrbek become second the Twin (Killebrew) to reach 1,000 RBI and Brian Harper became just fourth catcher in last 40 years to hit .300 in three consecutive seasons. Kirby Puckett earned All-Star Game MVP honors (first Twin) with a homer and an RBI-double, July 13, Baltimore.
The 1993 season was one of milestones for Dave Winfield. He doubled off Jimmy Key for 500th career two-bagger, May 17 at New York, and hit his 450th career homer, off Russ Springer, August 1 at California. Dave became the 19th player ever to record 3,000 hits with a single off Dennis Eckersley in 9th inning, September 16 vs. Oakland.
The 1994 season, the Twins first in the new AL Central division, was overshadowed by the labor dispute and ended on August 12. On April 27, Scott Erickson became the third Twin to pitch a nine-inning no-hitter, and just second (Jack Kralick, August 26, 1962) to throw a scoreless nine-inning game with no hits, when he beat Milwaukee, 6-0, at the Metrodome. Chuck Knoblauch had an 85-game errorless streak and led the Majors in doubles. Kirby Puckett collected his 2,000th career hit off Bobby Witt, going 5-6 (sixth 5-plus hit game of career), April 8 vs. Oakland. He set the club record with 26 RBI in April. He homered off Mike Magnante to become Twins' all-time hits leader (2,086), June 26 vs. Kansas City. Kirby led the league in rbi (first Twin since Hisle in 1977).
August 4, 1994, is the date Twins fans will forever link with Kent Hrbek's retirement announcement. Kent, the first baseman who helped lead the Twins to two World Championships, and who ranks in top five in virtually every club offensive category, announced his retirement from baseball after 13 years, effective at the end of the season. With the strike-shortened season, his last game in a Twins uniform was August 10, when the Twins beat Boston, 17-7, in the Metrodome.
On September 13, Terry Ryan was named Vice President/General Manager, replacing Andy MacPhail who left to become President/CEO of the Chicago Cubs.
The regular season did not begin until April 26 and a 144-game schedule was played. The Twins finished 56-88 (.389) in fifth place, 44 games back. The Twins all-time saves leader, Rick Aguilera, was traded to Boston; Scott Erickson, Kevin Tapani and Mark Guthrie were also dealt. The season was not without its bright spots, however, as outfielder Marty Cordova was named American League Rookie of the Year (.277, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 20 SB).
Kirby Puckett scored his 1,000th career run, May 17 versus California, had his 1,000th career RBI, May 26 versus Texas and hit his 200th career home run off Felipe Lira, August 20 at Detroit.
During the 1995-96 offseason, the Twins continued their efforts to rebuild by bringing back Aguilera as a free agent along with St. Paul native Paul Molitor, third baseman Dave Hollins, center fielder Roberto Kelly and catcher Greg Myers. The offseason also seemed to be the starting point for discussions involving the possibility of a new outdoor baseball stadium in 1999.
Despite finishing 78-84 and chasing a wild card spot, the phrases "what if" and "if only" will come to mind when thinking of the 1996 season. A year filled with optimism turned into discouragement when the most popular player in Twins history, Kirby Puckett, awoke with blurred vision on the morning of March 28. Later diagnosed with incurable glaucoma, Puckett announced his retirement on July 12. During the offseason, Puckett was named the team's vice president of baseball; he will continue to be a member of the Twins organization for years to come.
The "what if" phrases stem from dreaming about Puckett batting behind Paul Molitor in one of the best offensive years in Twins history. Molitor had a career year in which he became the 21st player in Major League history to collect 3,000 hits by tripling off Jose Rosado, September 16 at Kansas City. The 40-year-old designated hitter led the league in hits, was second in at-bats and third in batting (.341). Molitor's season rubbed off on the rest of his teammates as they established club records for batting (.288), runs (877), hits (1633), doubles (332) and RBI (812).
Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was the Twins All-Star game representative and put together the finest season of his career by batting .341 with 35 doubles, 13 homers, 72 RBI and 45 stolen bases. During the offseason, the Twins added Minnesota native Terry Steinbach along with pitcher Bob Tewksbury through free agency and discussions about funding a new proposed outdoor baseball stadium began.
The Twins endured a long, frustrating year. Nagging injuries early on and disappointing performances from some key players led to a 68-94 finish. The year was highlighted by the retirement of Kirby Puckett's No. 34 on May 25 and the reunion of the 1987 World Series champions during the weekend of August 8-10. The brightest star on the field was pitcher Brad Radke, who put together a 20-win season and finished third in the Cy Young voting. His remarkable year included a 12-game win streak in 12 consecutive starts, a feat accomplished only two other times in the past 50 years.
The Twins outdoor stadium efforts came to a road block in the offseason. The state legislature voted down several proposals for funding and Twins owner Carl Pohlad reached a sale agreement of the team with North Carolina businessman Don Beaver, whose intention was to move the team there. The deal, however, was not finalized heading into the 1998 season. The offseason also consisted of the Twins honoring Chuck Knoblauch's request for a trade on February 6. They acquired top prospects from the New York Yankees in pitcher Eric Milton and outfielder Brian Buchanan.
The 1998 season consisted of promising young talent and a goodbye to one of the greatest players to have ever played the game. The '98 club struggled with the bat and on the mound, compiling a 70-92 record - their sixth consecutive losing season. However, the Twins did have solid individual performances as outfielder Matt Lawton had a breakout season. In September, the Twins called up a nucleus of young, talented players such as first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, third baseman Corey Koskie, pitcher Benj Sampson and outfielder Torii Hunter.
The end of the season marked the good-bye of 21-year veteran Paul Molitor. "Molly" played his last game on September 27 at the Metrodome. He singled to right field in the eighth inning off Cleveland's Doug Jones in the last at-bat of his Hall-of-Fame career. In typical Molitor fashion, he went from first base to third on a soft single to right, hustling all the way and sliding head first into the third-base bag. He would then score on a sacrifice fly, crossing the plate for the last time as the Metrodome crowd stood cheering. It was a fitting end to a glorious career.
The stadium issue became a non-issue in 1998 as Twins owner Carl Pohlad signed a two-year lease with the Metrodome assuring the Twins would play in Minnesota for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
1999 was the year of the rookie. Tom Kelly and the Minnesota Twins coaching staff trotted 17 rookies out to the field with the idea of throwing them in the water and seeing who could swim. It seems they may have found a few good swimmers.
Eric Milton started to emerge as a dominant pitcher, topping 200 innings pitched and providing the highlight of the season: a no-hitter vs. Anaheim on September 11. Cristian Guzman proved that he is a top-fielding shortstop, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz led the league with a stellar .997 fielding percentage, and Corey Koskie led the team with a .310 batting average. Chad Allen, Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones all had fair numbers in their rookie years and each showed flashes of brilliance.
Is there a future star or two in this list? Is this the core of a potential contending team in the future? These are the questions Twins fans were asking. The team finished 63-97, but the young players showed promise.