Patrick Reusse: Sweep feels familiar, but assume nothing

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2007 - 11:24 PM

Yes, similarities to 2003 abound, but vastly superior Detroit and Cleveland are the clubs to catch this time, not a young K.C. team.

The Twins were in third place and 7½ games behind the front-running Kansas City Royals at the 2003 All-Star break. On the last day of the midsummer respite, General Manager Terry Ryan exchanged outfielders with Toronto: Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart.

The local media and sporting public had a fondness for Kielty's potential and considered this to be a mistake. The trade was widely panned, including on page 3 of the Star Tribune sports section, where the headline above a column blared:

"Trading Kielty was mistake for Twins."

The information also was offered that Kirby Puckett once had said the switch-hitting Kielty could be the "next Mickey Mantle."

Four years later, he rates closer to Downtown Darrell Brown than the Mick when it comes to great switch-hitting outfielders.

Kielty is an oft-injured journeyman now with Oakland. The A's most-used outfielder this season has been none other than Stewart, signed for 2007 after 3½ years with the Twins that included significant time on the disabled list.

Yet, back in 2003, Stewart became the catalyst for a 46-23 post-All-Star surge that carried the Twins to a four-game margin over the White Sox and seven games over the Royals in the AL Central.

That comeback started with a four-game sweep of the A's. On Sunday, the Twins had an encore, finishing a four-game sweep of Oakland by rallying for a 4-3 victory.

Later, there were suggestions from inside the home clubhouse — including from Torii Hunter — that beating the A's four in a row was providing the same tingly feeling as four years earlier.

One difference: The Twins were six games in arrears of a young Kansas City team when they concluded that A's sweep on July 20, 2003. The Royals then would wake one morning, realize they weren't that good, go 31-37 down the stretch and fall into an abyss in which they remain.

This time, vanquishing the A's has left the Twins six games removed from Detroit and 5½ from Cleveland in the AL Central.

Detroit is a World Series team that has upgraded, and Cleveland's nucleus has been around long enough that it should no longer have the doubts it showed in September 2005.

So, there's a mountain to climb here, as opposed to the molehill of '03, but so what? Four-game sweeps demand joyous thoughts, particularly with the chance to draw closer when the first-place Tigers arrive in the Dome on Tuesday.

The Twins had chances early Sunday to make this a no-sweat conclusion to the sweep. The requirement was a big hit from Justin Morneau, but he made the last out in the first and third innings and left five base runners.

Fortunately, you can't keep a good MVP down, and he smashed a home run off Santiago Casilla, Oakland's recent bullpen ace, for a 3-3 tie in the eighth.

The tie remained when Luis Castillo opened the bottom of the ninth. This was a day game after a night game, a formula that often causes the gimpy second baseman to sit.

"I didn't give him a choice," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I had Torii out with a sore hamstring. I wanted to get as many guys in there as I could."

As usual, Castillo looked as if he were a candidate for double amputation above the knees, and then he opened the ninth with a drive into the left-center field gap.

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