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Twins give last shot their best shot
10/08/2004 11:45 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins are at the edge of elimination. But they have the best American League starting pitcher of the season trying to keep them from going over the edge.

In fact, for a team trailing, 2-1, in a best-of-five series, the Twins have what looks to be, on the surface, a very favorable pitching matchup for Game 4.

They will have Johan Santana going, albeit on three days' rest. The New York Yankees, leading in this American League Division Series, will counter with Javier Vazquez, who, talented as he is, had a 6.92 ERA in the second half of the regular season.

Beyond this, the Yankees hold the lead and the high cards, too. If the Series goes to a fifth and final game they will have Mike Mussina going against Brad Radke, who will himself be working on three days' rest. But for Saturday, the edge appears to belong to the Twins.

True, in recent postseason history, starters going on short rest have generally not fared well, Josh Beckett over the Yankees in the 2003 World Series aside. The Twins, and Santana, are not alarmed by the short rest issue. And when you consider that their alternative for this start was Kyle Lohse, generally much less effective than hoped this season, Santana on short rest looks like more than a rationalization.

"You know, we're not too worried about the kid," manager Ron Gardenhire said Friday. "We'll let him have the ball and see how he does. You don't want to mess around too much with these guys, the Yankees. You've got to throw your best at them, and if he wants the ball, that's good enough for us."

"This time of year, it doesn't matter," Santana said about pitching on short rest. "You have to be sure that you're ready, because these games count. I'm always excited about baseball. It's good to be back home and get the support of our fans. I feel comfortable and feel at home and we'll see how it goes."

On the other side is Vazquez, who is starting because Orlando Hernandez could not get his right shoulder to work well enough to make a start in the series. Manager Joe Torre said that he hoped Hernandez could work out of the bullpen if the Yankees were to advance deeper into the postseason.

But for this game, Vazquez is the option. Vazquez has never pitched in the postseason, and he has won only four decisions since the All-Star break. But no matter what Vazquez's results have been, Torre has continued to voice his unwavering confidence in the pitcher. Friday was no time to make an exception.

"As far as the ability to control a game, yeah, I'm very confident he has that ability," Torre said. "I'm not concerned about his postseason, you know, lack of experience, because he's never been afraid of the competition. The only thing that's a problem for him is when he thinks he should be doing a better job and just overdoes it, and I don't think who he's pitching against matters in that regard."

The daily speculation about the Yankees' postseason rotation cannot have done much to boost the confidence of Vazquez, although he said that he understood the uncertainty. "I have to understand that I didn't do the best job the second half," he said. "That's one point. You have to be your own critic and I didn't do the best job. I wanted to pitch in the playoffs, but I knew I made the errors. I'm glad I'm getting this opportunity.

This start, of course, represents a chance for Vazquez to put his struggles behind him and start anew. "I forget about all that stuff, and that's in the past and this is like a whole new season here," he said. "Hopefully, I can have some good things in the playoffs and erase the second half."

This is the last shot for the Twins, and short rest or not, Santana also makes it their best shot. "We've got Johan going and we all know how good he's been," Gardenhire said Friday night. "We're packing our suitcases to finish this thing up in New York where we started."

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