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Jones sends a message skyward
10/06/2004 3:38 AM ET
NEW YORK -- Jacque Jones didn't want an escape. He wanted a tribute.

"He said he would do something," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was worried how drained his right fielder would be a day ago, "and he did."

For many players who come upon tragedy or adversity during a season, tranquility only exists between the white lines. Concentrate on the game, watch the ball, get into the flow, get away from your grief.

Jones had a little of that escape manning right field at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, two days after his father, Hardy Jones, passed away in California at age 52. But moreso, he had support, and it came from a surrogate family behind him.

"Just to come back and be with my teammates, show my appreciation for these guys," Jones said. "This type of grief that I've been going through with my father, they've been there for me. They've been calling. They were there for me the two days I was in Minneapolis and I wanted to get back to these guys and show them how much I appreciated them, and I wanted to come out there and be there for these guys."

When he homered off Mike Mussina to give the Twins what eventually stood as their final margin of a 2-0 victory, they were waiting for him.

"When he hit it, everybody jumped up," Gardenhire said. "Most of the time in the dugout, guys are cheering, but everybody was clapping. I think everybody wanted to see that for Jacque in our dugout. We know what he's been going through. That was a great moment."

He had every reason in the world not to have that moment. He spent three days back in California with his family and took a redeye across the country to New York on Tuesday morning. Hours later, he was in the batter's box against Mike Mussina, against whom he was 2-for-22 with nine strikeouts for his regular season career.

Fourteen of Jacque Jones' 24 homers this year went to left or left-center field. Only nine went to right or right-center.

He fanned twice against him in last year's Division Series opener and watched a called third strike go by in the first inning on Tuesday. He came back up in the third, again with Shannon Stewart on first base, and hit into an inning-ending double play.

"Yeah, I've had trouble the last couple postseasons with balls falling in and getting hits and getting hits off this guy," Jones said. "It just seems like this guy is channeled into my head and whatever I'm sitting on, he throws it opposite. Whenever I sit on the opposite, he throws what I should have hit."

Every reason to fail, except for two overwhelming reasons to succeed.

"We know that he's going through a lot right now," Gardenhire said, "but I think a lot of guys on this team expected to see him do something special tonight. I think we all know why."

Said Jones: "I knew once I got here, I would be ready to play. I don't do too well against Mussina, so I was kind of ready tonight."

His history against Mussina made it clear he wasn't going to pull one deep off him, so he surprised the sellout crowd by hitting an 0-1 pitch hard to the opposite field. He's long been a threat to do that; he was one of the rare left-handed hitters to drill an opposite-field home run at Detroit's Comerica Park when it was still 395 feet to the power alley. But the way it traveled supplied the shock.

It looked like a routine fly ball, except that it kept carrying until it barely reached into the left-field seats.

"I think that's supposed to happen," Gardenhire said. "He's supposed to hit a home run."

Mussina wasn't writing it off to destiny, but he wasn't writing off the swing either.

"I threw him so many breaking balls," Mussina said afterwards, "so we decided to go fastball away for one pitch. It wasn't a bad pitch, he just swung late and hit it hard. I didn't think he hit it hard enough to go out, but it went out. It's tough on us, and I wish I would have made a better pitch, but I'm not second-guessing it."

It marked his first postseason home run in his 62nd playoff plate appearance, and he's convinced it came with his father watching. When asked to talk about his memories of his dad, he talked about being there for his games.

"He was watching me like he always has, even when he was here with us," he said. "He tried to see me as much as he could. Every chance he got, he came down to see me play. I play the game hard and I play every day for my family members because those are the ones that are going to love me whether I play well or whether I don't play well. I know he's excited, and I'm excited."

He'll have to go through the same ordeal before Game 3. He'll return home Thursday for his father's funeral, then fly back to Minneapolis on Friday. But he's already given his tribute. When he finished his trot around the bases and returned to home plate, he pointed up at the sky.

"Oh yeah," he said. "You know who that was for."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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