Minnesota Twins second baseman Luis Rivas arrived at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome after shortstop Cristian Guzman on Tuesday, June 4, 2002, for a series against Cleveland. Yet the latter was pulled from the starting lineup for being late, and the former was welcomed warmly.1
Guzman had been dealing with knee and shoulder issues and was expected to be in the trainer’s room at 3:00 P.M. for treatment. He didn’t show up until a half-hour later, about the same time Rivas’s plane was landing at the Minneapolis airport, bringing him home after a rehabilitation stint with the Twins’ Class-A farm team in Fort Myers, Florida. Rivas’s wrist had been broken by a pitch in the second game of the season.
A year before, the Twins had been the upstart team in the American League, challenging Cleveland, a team that had won the Central Division title five of the previous six seasons. Coming off the worst record in the majors in 2000, Minnesota held a five-game lead over Cleveland at the All-Star break before fading in the second half of the season.
Cleveland had a strong start in 2002 and swept Minnesota in a four-game series at home in April to up its record to 9-1. The Twins responded with a three-game sweep in Minnesota later in April and started taking charge in the division.
Minnesota had been reported to be one of the teams slated for extinction over the offseason as baseball talked about contracting. The Twins survived, however, and thrived in 2002, and some saw their performance as startling. However, Minnesota had already rebounded the year before with a group of young players, including Guzman and Rivas.
Cleveland went the other direction at the end of the year, cutting costs by trading Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets and letting slugger Juan Gonzalez go through free agency. Cleveland still had Jim Thome, who had hit 49 home runs in 2001 and was now back in one of his favorite launching pads, the Metrodome.
The left-handed-hitting Thome went the opposite direction in the fourth inning, sending a Rick Reed pitch over the fence in left-center field for his 16th home run of the year. However, all this did for Cleveland was cut the Twins’ lead to 3-1.
Minnesota had put together a two-out rally in the first, scoring when Torii Hunter drove home Doug Mientkiewicz with a single. With one out in the second, A.J. Pierzynski tripled. Rivas, batting ninth in the order, came up for the first time in two months and grounded a single to center. He then lured an errant pickoff toss from Cleveland starter Ryan Drese that put him on second, went to third on a groundout, and scored on a wild pitch.
After Thome’s fourth-inning homer, Rivas led off the fourth with a single, starting a two-run rally. The Twins added four more in the fifth, with Dustin Mohr hitting a two-run homer. Pierzynski followed with a double, Rivas reached base on an error, and both runners later scored.
The Twins started the sixth inning with singles by David Ortiz, Mohr, and Pierzynski off Charles Nagy, Cleveland’s third pitcher of the game. Rivas grounded a double inside the third-base line to score two runs, and he came around on a pair of groundouts, making the score 13-1.
Thome homered 426 feet to center to lead off the seventh, but the Twins got that run back plus much more. Corey Koskiestarted the bottom of the inning with a home run to almost the same spot where Thome hit his. Bobby Kielty hit for Hunter and doubled. Ortiz walked, and Mohr and Pierzynski singled to knock Nagy out of the game.
Mark Wohlers relieved and didn’t do any better. Rivas chopped his first pitch over the left side of the infield for a two-run single. Jacque Jones followed with another homer, to center. Guzman, who had entered as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning, walked, and Mientkiewicz singled. The Twins had batted around and still had no one out. Finally, Koskie struck out, but Kielty hit his second double of the inning, driving in two more runs. When Ortiz also doubled to make the score 23-2, Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel brought in Ricardo Rincon, who was able to finish out the game with no more scoring.
The bottom three of the Minnesota order – Mohr, Pierzynski, and Rivas – had 12 hits in 18 at-bats and scored 12 runs. In addition to scoring five of those runs, Rivas drove in five. The only spot in the order without a hit was the second, although Denny Hocking, who left the game with a strained groin, and Guzman combined for two walks in six plate appearances.
The Twins tied an American League record with four players (Jones, Mohr, Pierzynski, Rivas) with a four-hit game.
The two homers for Thome gave him 18 in the Metrodome, the most of any ballpark outside of his home park, Jacobs Field, but the futility on the mound helped Cleveland tie a couple of team records – 22 earned runs given up and 25 hits allowed – and set a team record for the largest margin of a loss.
Minnesota didn’t set a record for the most runs in a game – the Twins did that in a 24-11 win at Detroit in 1996 – but the drubbing of Cleveland still stood (as of 2019) as a club mark for the margin of victory.
Minnesota stayed hot through the rest of the season, winning the division with a 94-67 record and winning their first-round playoff series, against Oakland. The drubbing put Cleveland’s record at 28-29, and the team would not rise above .500 after the first week of the season for more than two years.2
Memories and scoresheet of the author as well as postgame notes distributed by the Twins.
1 LaVelle E. Neal III, “Late-Arriving Guzman Not Allowed to Start,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis), June 5, 2001: C7.
2 Cleveland was 2-1 early in the 2003 season, but did not have more wins than losses again until it improved its record to 50-49 on July 25, 2004.