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It Begins

Editor's Note: Through the remainder of the Twins' playoff run, City Pages Online will feature this daily running correspondence between Yard columnist Brad Zellar and his fantasy baseball arch-nemesis, CP editor Steve Perry.

 

From: Steve Perry
To: Brad Zellar
Subject: It Begins

Fun, huh? I've been completely amazed at the pitching the Twins have gotten from Radke and Mays. Yes, Mays was one of the best pitchers in the league last year; Radke strikes me as a junkballer hanging on through guile–the way guys like Bob Forsch always did. Remember him?

But my point is, they were both hobbled and largely ineffective all year. There was nothing about these guys' respective seasons to suggest they could be counted on to come up big in the postseason. Consider: The Twins now have four playoff wins, three of them from a pair of pitchers who were no better than even bets to be healthy enough to pitch at all in the postseason.

What did you think of Gardenhire's pulling Mays in the 9th in favor of Eddie? Mays was at 100 pitches even. It made sense to get him out; this is a guy who pitched only 95 innings all year. On the other hand there was the specter of Unsteady Eddie's 9th inning on Sunday. I got a bad feeling watching him warm up.

This move may have been the obvious thing to do in Gardenhire's mind, but it was awfully risky too. Had Guardado rolled over again, the repercussions could have been devastating not only for this game but for Eddie's subsequent playoff performance as well--pitchers have flipped themselves out over far less.

But it worked out all right, like Radke and Mays and practically Everything else the Twins have done this postseason. Luck and pluck--that was the Horatio Alger formula, wasn't it?

 

From: Brad Zellar
To: Steve Perry
Subject: re: It Begins

Fun doesn't even begin to describe it. As someone who routinely attended dozens of games every year throughout the Twins long post-'91 slide--as a paying customer, mind you--this whole experience has been tremendous and gratifying on more levels than I could begin to describe in my current paralyzed, brain-static euphoria. You tend to forget that it's actually more exhausting to root for a winning team than a losing team. When the Twins sucked so bad in the mid- to late-nineties going to games was more or less like watching TV; it was something to do, but you no longer had any real investment of hope or enthusiasm in the experience. This sort of thing--playoff baseball--this is something entirely different. It might kill me.

I have to say that I'm not amazed at all by the pitching of Radke in the postseason. I was more amazed --and impressed-- that the Twins managed to have such a solid season without much of a contribution from the guy who was their best pitcher through most of those aforementioned bad years.

I've always loved Radke. Early in his career I honestly thought he had a chance to be Greg Maddux: a guy who knew how to pitch, always seemed to have a game plan, and thrived on impeccable control. He obviously hasn't become Maddux, but he's still a pretty damn good pitcher. Still only 29, Radke has managed to win 100 games in the Major Leagues despite pitching on terrible teams for most of his career. Until this season he had made at least 30 starts and pitched more than 200 innings in every one of the last six seasons. He also posted double-digit victory totals in each of his previous seven seasons with the Twins. And with the exception of last year all of those were with losing clubs. Before this year he also consistently managed to stay healthy, and he has always posted excellent strike out-to-walk ratios.

Like I say, I still really like him, and I think he's positioned to really put on a show in this postseason. As he admitted before the Oakland series, his arm--minus those extra 100 innings he'd usually have thrown by now--feels better than it ever has this late in the season.

The same may well be true for Mays, who threw even fewer innings than Radke this year (this after leading the team last season in wins, earned run average, and innings pitched). Last year, however, he sort of came out of nowhere, and Mays is easily the biggest head case on the Twins pitching staff. He's not a flake, really, so much as just the one effusive and honestly neurotic guy on a staff full of stoic characters. In a lot of ways Mays is similar as a pitcher to Scott Erickson, the nutball who won 20 games for the 1991 championship team. At their best they both rely on darting fastballs with a lot of movement; when both are really on they'll induce lots of groundballs and make hitters really flail. Unfortunately, like Erickson, Mays will probably have arm trouble off and on throughout his career. Anybody who watched him carefully last year knew he was destined to have elbow problems.

I also suspect that Mays--once again, like Erickson--will have a wildly inconsistent career, if he doesn't completely destroy his arm first. That said, I was pretty amazed to see him bounce back from his bad outing in the Oakland series to step up in game one against Anaheim, in a huge game in front of a capacity crowd. He came right out throwing strikes and mixing his pitches (first-pitch strikes to the first six batters he faced, and to 19 Anaheim hitters overall). He didn't walk anyone, and from the fifth through the eighth innings retired 12 batters in a row.

Given that Mays got two ground balls and a strikeout in the eighth, and had still not reached the 100-pitch mark, I was kind of surprised that Gardenhire took him out. I assumed at the time that this was a characteristic move on the part of the Twins manager; it would be just like Gardenhire to send a message to his team, the fans, and most importantly to Eddie Guardado by sending the closer right back out to the mound after his near-disaster in the fifth game in Oakland. Get him back on the horse. "Eddie's our guy, blah, blah, blah." After the game, however, Gardenhire intimated that Mays had all but asked to be taken out after the eighth.

"We asked him how he was doing and he told us, 'I can try to finish it, or Eddie can.' Which is not really what you want to hear. When a guy says, 'I'm good, I want it,' I'm giving him the ball. Joe definitely had the option to go back out for the ninth, but when he hesitated I knew I was going to Eddie."

That right there, in a nutshell, is the essential different at this point in his career, between Mays and guys like Radke and Eric Milton. I'm pretty sure that both of those guys would not have hesitated to let Gardenhire know that they wanted the ball.

And the fact is that the move to Eddie couldn't have worked out better--Guardado, this time with absolutely no margin for error, faced the heart of the Anaheim order and struck out Darrin Erstad, walked Tim Salmon, got Garrett Anderson to fly out to right field, and struck out Troy Glaus. So right out of the blocks Gardenhire managed to dispatch with all the Guardado speculation that was still hanging around from game five. That's just one more example of how positively *touched* this team seems. The two big questions that the huge national media contingent dragged into town on Monday--whether Guardadado could bounce back and the potential perils of starting Mays--have both evaporated in the first game.

The other big question, of course, is: is this the same Angels team that hit .376 in the Yankee series? And: are the Twins once again a team of destiny? Also: you realize, don't you, that your man Tony LaRussa in St. Louis is going to find some way to take that funeral train off the tracks?


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