What a year, the Twins went from being potential sellers at the trade deadline, to being wild card leaders, and even being tied with the division leader. The 2006 Major League Baseball season was unquestionably a rollercoaster for the Minnesota Twins. The season began in a tragic fashion, on March 6th; after baseball lost one of its true heroes. Hall of Fame outfielder and World Series hero Kirby Puckett passed away after he suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Hours of operations could not bring the beloved Twins player back and he later died of complications from the stoke. Kirby truly touched the lives of all Minnesota Twins fans and players in some way. Whether it was his heart warming smile, his work in the community, or the way he played the game, everyone will know Kirby for one thing, and that is he was a hero.
The Twins opening day lineup consisted of a few new members. Gold Glove winner Luis Castillo was acquired from the Marlins during their “fire sale” for youngsters Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler. The Twins also signed Tony Batista to play third base, and Rondell White to be the designated hitter. The team finished April with an unimpressive record of 9 wins with 15 loses and quickly found themselves in 4th place in the division. The team was looking for answers to help out their struggling rotation. 22-year old Rookie southpaw Francisco Liriano was promoted to the rotation after Carlos Silva was demoted to the bullpen. In his first start he pitched 5 innings giving up 1 run with 5 strikeouts on 68 pitches. From that point on the Twins found what they were looking for all season long; a reliable starting pitcher to go along with Johan Santana. In his first three starts, Francisco Liriano went 3-0 with an outstanding earned-run average of 1.78. Finally June rolled around. The Twins, still trying to find an answer on offense and defense, traded Juan Castro after cutting ties with Tony Batista. The Twins who recalled Jason Bartlett from Rochester was named the starting shortstop, and utility man Nick Punto was named the starting third baseman. The Twins finally found their ways and finished June with a sensational record of 19-7, including winning 18 out of 20 games. The team kept their hot streak in July and finished with an 18-8 record. The Twins had 3 representatives at the 2006 MLB All-Star Game. Pitchers Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano were accompanied by Batting Title leader, and catcher, Joe Mauer. The American League won the game guaranteeing the Twins home field advantage if they go to the World Series. After the break the team was quickly found without two of their stating outfielders after placing Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart on the disabled list with foot injuries. Stewart’s season was ultimately finished due to plantar fascia in his left foot. After July the Twins were still third in the standings despite going 37-15 in the two months. The injuries continued in August when Francisco Liriano was placed on the 15-day disabled list after feeling soreness in his left forearm. Despite the injuries, the Twins still finished August with a respectful 16-12 record. The team officially passed the Chicago White Sox to be the Wild Card leaders on August 28th after a controversial call involving a fan interfering with a foul pop fly. Bad news came when the team placed Francisco Liriano on the disabled list for the second time since August 7th. The team was forced to put Liriano down for the remainder of the season to hopefully eliminate further injury. The team continued their success in September and finished with an 18-12 record. The Twins went 71-39 from June through September. The team’s great play was not an individual achievement; they had many contributors to their success. Joe Mauer led the majors in batting average and Justin Morneau was the team’s first 30 homerun hitter since 1987. Possibly the greatest contributors of all were “the little piranhas”. Jason Tyner, Nick Punto, and Jason Bartlett were all praised by rival manager Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox of being the greatest success for the Minnesota Twins.
"They can beat you in so many different ways. You wake up and say they're like little piranhas. Chk, chk, chk. You wake up and you don't have no meat, just bones. All those piranhas -- blooper here, blooper here, beat out a ground ball, hit a home run, they're up by four. They get up by four with that bullpen? See you at the national anthem tomorrow.”
The team certainly had its ups and downs, and its wins and losses. But the main thing is that the team came together when the going got rough and united. The team’s playoff destination still isn’t certain, but the way this team has played all season, I don’t think it matters.