Leading Man With Shannon Stewart at the top of the order, the Twins kicked into gear

September 28, 2003

On the morning of July 16, Shannon Stewart was in the middle of a
quiet breakfast at one of his favorite restaurants in Toronto
when he got an unexpected call on his cellphone. It was Blue Jays
general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who informed his 29-year-old
leftfielder that, after 11 seasons with the organization, he'd
just been traded to Minnesota. Minutes later, with Stewart still
in shock over the news, Twins G.M. Terry Ryan called him. "We
need someone to jump-start this team," Ryan, whose team was 7 1/2
games behind the Royals in the AL Central at the time, told
Stewart. "We need you to be that guy."

Dealt for promising outfielder Bobby Kielty, Stewart has been
everything Ryan had hoped for and more. At week's end Minnesota
was 43-20 since acquiring Stewart--the best mark in the majors
during that span--and the Twins were riding a nine-game winning
streak that helped them bust out to a 5 1/2-game lead over the
Royals and the White Sox.

"Would we be where we are now without him?" asks manager Ron
Gardenhire. "It's tough to think so." Stewart is one of only five
players in the majors to have hit .300 and scored 100 runs in
each of the past four seasons, and through Sunday he was batting
.308 with 88 runs. Stewart also was tops among AL leadoff men in
on-base percentage (.366).

"We've got a bunch of hackers in the lineup," says catcher A.J.
Pierzynski. "[Stewart] has calmed us all down. He works deep into
every count, and that's trickled down to everyone else and made
us aware of being more patient."

Minnesota will need to maintain its recent production from its
lineup in order to advance through the playoffs. "Everything is
coming together," says closer Eddie Guardado. "We're peaking at
the right time."

COLOR PHOTO: JIM MONE/AP (TWINS) Going for a fifth straight .300 season, Stewart has given theTwins reason to celebrate.