10/05/2002 5:48 pm ET
Pressure no problem for Milton
By Todd Lorenz / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Twins came home to Minnesota after splitting the first two games of the Division Series in Oakland, Eric Milton was asked how he felt about pitching Game 4.
"There's going to be pressure either way," Milton said. "Either pressure to clinch, or pressure to stay alive."
Obviously, Milton would have rather started the game with the pressure to clinch, but after the Twins lost Game 3, the left-hander took the mound as the Twins' only hope for survival.
"You know, I really haven't had many big games," he said. "This is our first postseason, and I'm looking forward to it. We are trying to get to where the A's have been -- perennial postseason powers. We are trying to get there, so it will definitely be the biggest game of my career, no doubt."
For a guy who admittedly had never pitched in a truly important game, Milton not only survived -- he thrived in his first postseason appearance. Oakland managed just two runs and six hits in seven innings against him, as the Twins forced a winner-take-all Game 5 in Oakland with an 11-2 victory in front of a record-setting crowd of 55,960 fans at the Metrodome.
"Milty did what we needed to have done," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He shut them down and gave us a chance to have a big inning. It was a great performance."
After watching Rick Reed give up four home runs in a Game 3 loss, the Minnesota game plan was a no-brainer -- keep it down and throw strikes. From the outset, Milton followed the plan to the letter, and it paid off big.
Milton kicked off the game by fanning A's leadoff hitter Ray Durham on three pitches. That fired up the capacity crowd, which in turn gave Milton a little extra zip on his fastball. He normally throws in the low nineties, but as the decibel levels climbed, so did the pitch speed. Milton topped out at 96 mph.
"It didn't surprise me at all," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "I told Gardy before that game that he was going come out firing. He was going to throw hard and not let up on those guys."
More impressive than the velocity was Milton's location. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first 12 batters.
"Strike one is the best pitch in baseball," Milton said. "After that, you can do a lot of different things."
The only time Milton's control faltered was in the third inning, and the A's took advantage of it. Milton allowed a one-out walk to Scott Hatteberg before Miguel Tejada staked Oakland to a two-run lead with a 346-foot home run off the top of the fence in left field.
"That was definitely a bad pitch, and he made me pay for it," Milton said.
But as they have all season, the Twins came back by erasing the mistake with two runs of their own in the bottom half.
"I was trying to stay confident, but that put [Tejada's home run] right out of my mind," he said. "After that I was like, 'I can do this.'"
If the two runs helped Milton regain his confidence, it soared the next inning when the Twins' offense blew the game open by setting a Division Series record with a seven-run fourth.
"That was big for everyone," Milton said. "It was a lot of fun to watch those guys running around the bases."
Almost as much fun as the fans had watching Milton keep Minnesota's World Series dream alive.
Todd Lorenz is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.