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Twins to make noise in Game 310/07/2004 8:01 PM ET
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- This 2004 American League Division series has followed exactly the same path as the 2003 model did through the first two games -- Minnesota Twins win the first game, New York Yankees win the second.
But there is reason to believe that the remainder of this Series might not play out with the one-sided nature that last year's did. The Yankees went on to win Games 3 and 4 then with relatively little interference from the Twins, by scores of 3-1 and 8-1.
Actually, there are two reasons to believe that there might be a difference. One is Johan Santana. When he started and lost Game 4 last season, he was a young pitcher in need of having bone chips removed from his elbow. This year, he is a young pitcher with legitimate Cy Young credentials, who just shut out the Yankees over seven innings for a Game 1 ALDS victory. When he starts another game in this Series, and that is likely to be Game 4, even on short rest, he can take the mound with a confidence that is grounded in stunning and repeated success.
The other reason comes from the other rotation. In last year's New York-Minnesota matchup, the Yankees started a future Hall of Famer, Roger Clemens, in Game 3, and a postseason stalwart, David Wells, in Game 4.
This time around, the Yankees will start Kevin Brown, just two starts off a disabled list stint that came after he broke his left hand by smashing it against a wall. In Game 4, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre seemed to indicate Thursday that the Yankees are leaning toward starting Javier Vazquez. It would have been Orlando Hernandez, but he has been suffering from what is known in the trade as a dead shoulder. He was the Yanks' ace down the stretch, but the fatigue in his surgically repaired right shoulder made him a question mark.
Vazquez is healthier than Hernandez, but his second half performance was so erratic that the Yankees would go to him only because Hernandez is unavailable.
Vazquez has unquestioned stuff, but what he hasn't had is the kind of performance in the Yankee pressure cooker that would give the Yankees the usual sense of self-assured calm regarding their rotation. With Brown just coming back from the broken hand, with Vazquez searching for his better self, and with Hernandez possessing an iffy shoulder, this is a long way from the parade of near sure things that the Yankees generally trot out as a playoff rotation.
On the other side of the equation, it is possible that the Twins had their spirit crushed in Wednesday night's 12-inning loss. It is possible, but it is not likely. This is a resilient, scrappy crew that has won three straight division titles. They haven't taken the easy way out yet and you can't expect them to start now.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire predicted that his club would toss this loss over its shoulder and would also be energized in the next two games by the home-field advantage. The Minnesota crowd will create ear-shattering noise in the enclosed space also known as the Metrodome.
"It's a tough loss, but you know what? This baseball team, they will forget about that come (Friday)," Gardenhire said. "Our fans will be in this ballpark, they will be cheering us on, and there is going to be a lot of excitement, and we are looking forward to getting in there and playing. We have home-field advantage and I think we have been looking for that. We feel good about coming home 1-1. We won a game in New York, but last night we thought we could have had two. So we believe we can play with anybody, and our kids got a good taste of some pretty good baseball in New York. We feel good about it. Love to be 2-0, but we feel good about it."
Against Brown in Game 3 the Twins will start Carlos Silva, who was 14-8 with a 4.21 ERA in his first big league season as a full-time starter. He gave up only 35 walks in 203 innings, but he allowed 255 hits. The good news for the Twins was that he didn't fade down the stretch. He was 4-0 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts in September and October.
The good news for the Yankees from Brown was that he had five very good innings of work last Saturday and that he hasn't broken any body parts in the interim. Manager Joe Torre said that the Saturday performance, plus Brown's postseason experience, gave him the edge over Vazquez for the Game 3 start.
In Brown's session with the media Wednesday, he discussed how his nearly chronic back problems led to increasing frustration on his part. But he said that he understood that pitching with pain was part of the deal for him at this stage.
"I mean, pain is one thing; function is another," Brown said. "If you've got pain and you can still go out and throw the ball like you want to and get people out, obviously, you know, it's easier to manage. You know, you still have the reward there for dealing with the pain. That's what I dealt with for quite some time in the past and that's what I've got to do here again."
And Brown understands that, getting this opportunity after a self-inflicted wound put him on the shelf, is a shot at redemption.
"Obviously, it's a great honor," Brown said Wednesday. "To have been through what I've been through this year, and to have an opportunity to go out and contribute at this point in time, you know, I appreciate it, I really do."
It's an honor, it's a privilege, it's a chance to regain some ground lost with that last temper tantrum. But Brown and Vazquez, etc., will not be going against a ballclub that is likely to go quietly. The Twins are in a better 1-1 spot against the Yankees than they were last year.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.