10/01/2002 4:51 pm ET
MLBeat: Veterans ready
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- While the postseason is a new experience for most of the Minnesota Twins, no one has waited longer on the club for their chance than veterans Denny Hocking and Eddie Guardado.
Both players joined the Twins from the minor leagues in 1993 and endured eight straight losing seasons before the turnaround in 2001. Now they are battling the A's in the American League Division Playoffs.
"It's nice being in this situation," said Hocking, a utility infielder. "It's nice playing after Sunday and not having to pack your bags after that 162nd game. It's nice the way this organization has gone about it to get to this game."
Guardado, a first-year closer who saved a club record 45 games this season, is looking forward to having his chance to come into a game.
"We've been waiting for this day for a long time," said Guardado, who recorded the save in Tuesday's 7-5 Twins win over the A's in Game 1. "You never know when this day is going to come again and you always have to take pride every day and hopefully make the series last long and win."
The moment is even a little more special for Guardado, who grew up in nearby Stockton, Calif.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "I gave my wife the duty of handling all the tickets. I have no clue what we've got. I just want out of that."
Guardado actually should have some bad memories this season trying to close games at Network Associates Coliseum. He blew two of his only six saves here when Oakland hit walk-off home runs to win games. The left-hander said that is way behind him.
"I don't worry about that," Guardado said. "It's going to be the same game I've played all year. Here it is. If they get me, they get me. If they don't, I've done my job."
Neither player was surprised to find that the Twins aren't being given much a chance to do something in the playoffs.
"We weren't supposed to play this season," Hocking said. "We got a reprieve and we were able to play and be the best team in the central. All we wanted was a chance to make the playoffs and we did that. We know we're an underdog again. That's a role that these team has played for a long time. The pressure is not on us. These guys over there won 103 games. They're supposed to beat us."
Unlike Guardado, Hocking doesn't really know when he'll get to come into a game. He actually has performed well in Oakland during his career, batting .338 (27-for-80) with four homers and 10 RBIs. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that wouldn't be part of his thinking.
"I don't care what he's done against these guys," Gardenhire said. "We've got our players out there. This is the playoffs. He's had some success against these guys during the regular season but last time out here, he didn't play at all."
"I'll just try and be ready for when my opportunity might come," Hocking said. "Whether it's a start, I'm called to pinch hit or be a defensive replacement."
Bright sun: Several players on both teams experienced issues with the bright Oakland sky on Tuesday. Routine catches were anything but as players tried to shield the sun's glare. A few balls fell in against Minnesota while Oakland escaped unharmed.
"That sun was bad!" said Twins All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter. "It was worse than advertised. I'm going to try and find darker sunglasses."
In the eighth inning, a Ramon Hernandez fly ball almost hit Hunter in the face. He appeared not to see it until the last second in recording the out.
"I was trying to get an angle at the last minute," Hunter said. "You could see a blur. If I didn't put my glove out, it would have hit me in the eye."
Expect more of the same in Wednesday's Game 2, which will also be an afternoon affair.
Big time support: Among those on hand supporting the Twins at Oakland are three members of the club's hall of fame: Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Tony Oliva.
Puckett, a former center fielder who was inducted in Baseball's Hall of Fame in 2001, says the Twins' inexperience in postseason play shouldn't be a problem.
"They are young, there's no doubt about that," Puckett said. "But they paid their dues. They got their butts kicked a couple of years ago and got beat down really bad. They turned the tables last year and were close. This year, they are on a mission."
Puckett, now a Vice President for the organization, said that he's not surprised either that many pundits don't expect much from Minnesota in the postseason.
"They didn't in '87 or '91 either," said Puckett, referring to the years he helped lead the Twins to World Series titles. "It's just the way it goes. Maybe it's the way you want it to be. There's no pressure on us. All the pressure is on the A's."
Twins notes: Several Twins players took public transportation to the ballpark instead of the team bus Tuesday morning, but got on the wrong train. They ended up be delayed getting to the Colsieum, but still made pregame warmups.
Four players not on the postseason roster are with the team in uniform. They are catcher Javier Valentin, infielder David Lamb and pitchers Bob Wells and Juan Rincon.
All are participating in workouts to be ready just in case they are needed.
"If someone gets hurt, you can't get a person for this series, but you could for the next one," Gardenhire said.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at
email@example.com. This report was not subject to
the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.