- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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NEW YORK -- LaTroy Hawkins ambled to his locker in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium late this afternoon, shirtless, thinking he was alone. And then the Minnesota Twins reliever turned around and realized he had been followed by about three dozen reporters.
Hawkins cursed with surprise and grinned. "Unbelievable," he said, before cheerfully answering questions about how the Twins beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the Division Series, 3-1.
Twins starter Johan Santana had to leave the game after four innings because of a cramp in his right hamstring, forcing Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire to dig deep into his bullpen. Veteran Rick Reed got two outs, lefty J.C. Romero racked up four outs, and then Hawkins got six outs in the seventh and eighth innings, overpowering the Yankees in the late afternoon twilight.
He threw fastballs past Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson with two runners on base in the seventh, and in the eighth, he struck out Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada. Eddie Guardado assumed a 3-0 lead in the top of the ninth and managed to preserve the victory. Afterward, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said Hawkins "deserves an MVP award. Without him, we wouldn't be where we are now."
Hawkins deserved some recognition, as one of the senior members of the Twins. He can remember what it was like to play with Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch, he knows what it means to be perceived as a bust. He knows about how it feels to lose your job as a starting pitcher, and what it takes to compile a 6.67 ERA in the majors, as he did in 1999, and still keep your job. Hawkins knows what it's like to play for a team that was almost contracted.
He is 30 years old now, pitching better than he ever has, and the Twins -- the Twins of contraction -- have already put a serious dent in the Yankees. "Ahhhhh, it's just one game," said Hawkins. "The Yankees, they've got 25 championships (26, actually). I wish I had one."
Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski saw Hawkins' head in the middle of a pack of reporters. "Damn, Hawk," he said.
"I know," Hawkins replied. "It's New York."
The Twins thrived in this atmosphere, several mentioning that they had fulfilled a dream by playing in a postseason game in Yankee Stadium. Mientkiewicz had bumped into Yankees catcher Jorge Posada around the batting cage before the game, and Posada gestured toward the field. "A playoff game in Yankee Stadium -- does it get any better than that," Posada mused. "Does it get any better than that?"
No, Mientkiewicz responded, and later, he shook his head talking about what a tremendous experience he had. Pierzynski, Guardado, Santana -- they all marveled about the day, and not just because they beat the Yankees. They had fun.
But just down the hallway, Derek Jeter was asked if he is playing with any concern about the job status of Yankees manager Joe Torre. Some veterans answered a few questions and dodged out the side door, hoping to avoid the mass of journalists asking about how badly the Yankees performed.
Giambi looked terrible, striking out a couple of times at the plate, chasing a couple of bad pitches. Ruben Sierra stunted a rally swinging at a pitch outside the strike zone. Center fielder Bernie Williams -- who has suddenly looked very old in the last couple of months, as if his body is worn down -- failed to cut off Torii Hunter's hard smash into right-center field in the sixth inning, allowing the ball to go past him.
By the time Williams relayed the ball to second baseman Alfonso Soriano, Matt LeCroy had scored and Hunter was headed to third. Soriano, who earlier was unable to make a couple of tough plays, fired the relay high over the head of third baseman Aaron Boone -- an error that allowed Hunter to score. The Twins' lead was 3-0, and the Yankees could not come back, seeming flat.
There is a perfect storm gathering over the Yankees, felt throughout the organization: if the Yankees fail to win the World Series -- nothing short of that -- there is a wide belief that owner George Steinbrenner is going to affect nothing less than a major overhaul. General manager Brian Cashman figures to be on the chopping block, his responsibility stripped but perhaps not his title. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre is likely to lose his job.
More significantly, friends of Steinbrenner believe that it is possible that the owner -- more demonstrative this year than in recent seasons, more willing to exercise his impetuosity -- will try to find a way to get rid of manager Joe Torre.
Roger Clemens is retiring, and with Clemens and Stottlemyre perhaps exiting at the same time, players are privately speculating that 21-game winner Andy Pettitte is ready to sign elsewhere, perhaps closer to his home state of Texas; Pettitte is close to Clemens and Stottlemyre and is eligible for free agency after this season.
Black clouds seem to hang over the Yankees these days. For the Twins, it was nothing but sun and fun in Game 1.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
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