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Silva gets nod in ALDS Game 3
10/07/2004 9:37 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Carlos Silva arguably was overlooked between American League Cy Young Award favorite Johan Santana and longest-tenured Twin Brad Radke. The age of obscurity likely ends Friday night.

With Minnesota's AL Division Series against the Yankees tied heading into the Metrodome, Silva's postseason debut in Game 3 means more than one game of momentum or holding onto home-field advantage. With both Santana and Radke coming back to start on three days' rest in Games 4 and 5, Silva's outing has the best chance of determining the Twins' course in the series.

Asking Santana and Radke to split against the Yankees after a Game 3 win is understandable. Asking them to sweep their two games becomes incredibly more difficult.

It's a load of pressure on a first-year Major League starter who makes his living allowing hitters to put the ball in play, especially when he's going opposite October legend Kevin Brown. But considering Silva won 14 games letting hitters take their hacks this regular season, he isn't exactly unproven.

"I've said all year long this kid's probably the most improved of anyone on the staff," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said.

The entire year, Silva admits, has been an education as his first in a Major League rotation. He's not the type of pitcher who can pitch a weak outing and win. For some reason, an August performance against the Yankees at the Metrodome was the dividing point between a shaky midseason slump and a six-week close that established him as a playoff starter.

The 25-year-old right-hander gave up seven runs in five innings to the Yankees that night, though he took a no-decision in the 13-10 loss Aug. 19. It gave him 13 runs allowed over seven innings in back-to-back Twins losses. He surrendered nine runs over 42 2/3 innings in his next seven outings combined.

Well Grounded
Best regular-season ratios of groundouts to flyouts among starters currently in the playoffs
Rank Pitcher Team Ratio
1. Derek Lowe Boston 3.36
2. Jason Marquis St. Louis 2.05
3. Matt Morris St. Louis 1.86
4. Odalis Perez Los Angeles 1.83
5. Chris Carpenter St. Louis 1.74
6. Mike Hampton Atlanta 1.62
7. Carlos Silva Minnesota 1.60
8. Jose Lima Los Angeles 1.48
9. Jon Lieber NY Yankees 1.46
10. John Thomson Atlanta 1.44

"I made a lot of changes," Silva said Wednesday. "Like you guys know, this is my first year as a starter, and every day I try to learn different things. I have two of the top pitchers in the league [to learn from, Johan] Santana and [Brad] Radke.

"You know what kind of lineup the Yankees have. I know I didn't pitch that good in that game, but I've been learning a lot of stuff and I've been working so hard, especially in my bullpen. Like Johan says, 'It's no matter how hard you throw, if you hit your spot you're going to be fine no matter what hitter you face.'"

That's the rule of survival for the pitcher who thrives on a sinking fastball. Try to overthrow, and it becomes a hanging fastball upon which opponents can take batting practice.

Silva knows that feeling enough to make light of it. "My neck was hurt a little bit, too," he said, "because I've been watching the ball go all over the place."

Take a little off, the movement comes back, and most of those hits become groundouts. That's especially true behind Minnesota's defense. Silva had the ninth-highest ratio of groundouts to flyouts among AL starters, yet was saddled with only five unearned runs.

"They'll make contact," center fielder Torii Hunter said, "but he's going to get a lot of ground balls, especially on this stuff out here, the [new] turf. I think it slows a lot of ground balls down."

His first career shutout was an 11-hitter on Aug. 3 against Anaheim. Even during his season-ending streak of success, he gave up at least one hit per inning pitched in five of his seven outings.

But he doesn't give up the big hits. He yielded six home runs since the All-Star break. After he gave up a lone run on nine hits over six innings Sept. 10 at Detroit, one Tigers hitter noted that he threw sinker after sinker and they couldn't do anything about it.

To Anderson, however, Silva's success depends on mixing it up. At different points in the season, they've added a curveball and changeup to his repertoire and tried to keep hitters from constantly looking low in the strike zone.

"Coming [from being] a predominantly one-pitch guy coming out of the bullpen in Philadelphia," Anderson said, "he had to learn a new role as well as developing his other pitches. He was always the one-pitch, one-speed guy, and to be able to slow the ball down and move it in and out a little more; he's made big, big improvements."

All the while, he has made mental adjustments, too. When he completed that complete-game shutout, he threw the ball into the upper deck, drawing a stern rebuke from coaches. Keeping those emotions in line helped him grow up quickly. There's no better test of that than a postseason start before a hyped-up home crowd.

"He handles himself a lot better on the mound than he has in the past," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He'll be amped up, and probably overcharged a little bit. He's been in control of himself pretty doggone good."

He's improved enough that the rookie comes into Game 3 with a better record than the wily veteran. While Brown lost his last three starts and five of his last six decisions to close the regular season, Silva hasn't lost since Aug. 13, when he gave up six runs in two innings. His 14 victories actually topped Radke for second on the staff.

Not that anyone has noticed yet. They might on Friday.

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

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