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Press Row: Twins in driver's seat
10/06/2004 11:50 AM ET
Johan Santana pulled off baseball's version of the Rope-a-Dope.

In the Twins' 2-0 victory over the Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Santana was hardly the overpowering left-hander many expected him to be. He took his lumps, letting baserunner after baserunner aboard.

He gave up nine hits, walked a batter and hit a batter in seven innings -- not exactly the type of command that established Santana as one of the favorites to win the AL Cy Young this season.

But then, with a cool craftiness that belies his age, the 25-year-old let the gauntlet down, forcing the vaunted Yankees into five double plays -- a record for a nine-inning postseason game.

And to think, this was Santana on a bad night. He wasn't working with his best stuff. The changeup he so often uses to finish hitters off was, well, off.

But as Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press pointed out, Santana didn't need great stuff to pick up a crucial victory for the Twins:

"I've seen Santana much more dominating. There are nights when he has all three pitches working and makes it look easy. Tuesday, he parlayed a good fastball and determination into a critical victory.

"It's like former manager Tom Kelly used to say after one of his marginal pitchers was cuffed around: 'Anybody can pitch if he has great stuff.'

"Not many can when they are having an off night.

"'It is a great feeling to beat the New York Yankees,' Santana said. 'It's also good for the team. Now we know we have a chance to go home and win.'

"Imagine if he has two pitches working next time."

Santana did just what he did in 2003. He led the Twins to a Game 1 victory over the Yankees. But while the Yankees were able to sweep the remaining games in last year's series, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that Joe Torre and the boys from the Bronx will have a much more difficult assignment this time around:

"Torre had a relaxed look about him after [last year's Game 1], and why not? He had Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells lined up to pitch the next three games.

"The Yankees won all three, thrashing a struggling Santana in the clinching fourth game.

"There has been some growth in Santana as a pitcher in the ensuing 12 months. How much growth?

"This was the 2004 version of a struggling Santana -- heavens to Seth Greisinger, he gave up nine hits! -- and the Yankees could not score a run against him."

Now the Twins will enter Game 2 with confidence. And the Yankees? Well, if you are to believe Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News, the defending AL champs ought to approach this game with a sense of urgency:

"They were down 0-1 against the Twins last year, came back and won the series. They were down 0-1 against the Red Sox. Came back and won the series, maybe you heard. Then they came back from 0-1 down against the Marlins in the World Series, before things happened to them, most of them named Josh Beckett.

"But there is a difference this time. Andy Pettitte does not get the ball today, the way he always got the ball in Game 2, in the October before this one. It is Jon Lieber, in the first postseason start of his life.

"This is a different kind of 0-1 hole for the Yankees today, because they could not beat Santana on a night when he gave up nine hits in seven innings, when he never had a 1-2-3 inning, when it seemed as if the 93 pitches he actually threw were more like 193."

The Yankees have been here before, and they are not prone to panic. But Jack Curry of The New York Times thinks they have a lot to be concerned about, given their performance against Santana:

"The Yankees kept reiterating how they hit the ball hard, as if the mere recounting of the grounders that turned into double plays and the shots to the warning track that became outs would suddenly change them into hits. But nothing was changing about how the Yankees looked on a lost night."

The Twins, on the other hand, looked like a much more polished playoff team than the one that fell to the Yankees a year ago. Kevin Kernan of the New York Post said that had to do with a pregame instruction manager Ron Gardenhire gave to his team:

"Gardenhire mentioned he saw the Yankees' championship way last season when the teams lined up for introductions.

"'I looked over at the Yankees and they were standing inside the white line and our team was standing outside the white line," Gardenhire said. "They were like, 'Champions stand inside the white line.' We learned something. So I tell my guys, stand inside the damned white line now.'

"They stood where they belonged. All night long."

Now, Mike Vaccaro of the Post believes the Twins could stand in the way of what many expected would be another postseason rematch -- one pitting the Yankees against the Red Sox in the ALCS:

"The Yankees never have seemed so vulnerable, nor the opponent so cock-sure. For months, everyone has waited for the end of the season, for the inevitable conclusion to the Yankees-Red Sox passion play. The Angels did their part earlier in the day, laying down for the Sox. The Twins are another matter.

"If the Yankees didn't know that already, they certainly do now."

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