- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- You know how this is going to work out, don't you?
Kevin Brown makes one of the bonehead moves of all time by punching a clubhouse wall and misses most of the season's final month with a broken left hand, angering his manager and his teammates, feeding New York talk shows and leaving the Yankees unsure whether they can depend on him in the postseason.
So naturally he comes back in his first playoff start and allows only one run in six innings and looks as dominating as ever and puts his team on the verge of another championship series meeting with Boston. And because of the layoff, he is now probably so well rested for the rest of October that he'll probably throw a complete game in Game 7 of the World Series.
That's just the way things work for the Yankees each fall. The opposing manager loses all sense and leaves his pitcher in until one arm is three inches longer than the other. Mariano Rivera takes the mound and makes batters bend over and beg for mercy. Derek Jeter shops for engagement rings with Lois Lane during the day and rescues the Yankees from General Zod at night.
And even a title bout loss to a clubhouse wall winds up working out in the end.
Brown had pitched only twice, for a total of 5 2/3 innings, since breaking his hand Sept. 3, allowing four runs while retiring only two batters against the Red Sox two weeks ago, then allowing one run in five innings last weekend in a game against the Blue Jays. "I think the guys were probably scared enough watching me pitch today,'' Brown said after New York's 8-4 victory in Game 3 of its Division Series at Minnesota. "I think it was a motivating factor for them.''
As if the Yankees ever needed motivation beyond George Steinbrenner threatening to release the hounds if they lose.
The win left the Yankees one victory from wrapping up a series they appeared to be in serious danger of losing just a couple nights ago. Minnesota's Johan Santana shut them out in the opener and Torii Hunter's home run put New York behind 6-5 in the 12th inning of Game 2. Then Twins manager Ron Gardenhire -- taking what may be an early insurmountable lead in the Grady Little Managerial Award -- left closer Joe Nathan in just long enough to blow the lead and give the Yankees the win and the momentum.
Still, Minnesota remained in good shape after the loss. The Twins were returning home and had Santana ready for another start while the Yankees were relying on a starter who had pitched 5 2/3 innings in five weeks due to that little scuffle with a clubhouse wall following a bad game.
Brown shrugged off suggestions that his teammates may have wanted to tie him to an anthill when he broke his hand during the middle of a pennant race, pointing out that most players have done something stupid in anger at one point or another. Which is certainly true. "There's probably not too many guys who have not been angry at one moment and thrown a helmet or broken a bat, where there's a possibility they could have injured themselves,'' he said. "Unfortunately, I didn't have a bat in my hand at that moment.''
Manager Joe Torre said his take on the broken hand was that "We all have responsibilities. One of his responsibilities is to pitch, but it's really tough to go out there and have the sole purpose of putting pressure on yourself because you broke your hand as opposed to wanting to win a ballgame. He certainly came up big for us tonight.''
Of course, the Twins helped out Brown with some terrible baserunning. With the Twins trailing 7-1 in the sixth, Hunter led off with a double down the left-field line that bounced off left fielder Hideki Matsui's glove. Even though the ball didn't get very far from Matsui and even though a cardinal rule of baseball is to never make the first out at third base, Hunter tried to advance to third and was tagged out. "That wasn't a bonehead play,'' Hunter said. "That was aggressive ball.''
No, it was a bonehead play. As was Corey Koskie's decision two batters later to try to stretch a single into a double. He, too, was thrown out, ending the inning.
So now the Twins who looked so good just a couple nights ago are playing poorly and only one loss from winter. At least they have Santana, the probable AL Cy Young winner, on the mound for Game 4. Santana hasn't lost a game since July 11, but the lefty has never pitched on three days' rest in the majors, so he's a bit of a question mark. The Twins need him to pitch like Josh Beckett did on three days' rest while clinching the World Series last year and not like most pitchers have on three days' rest in recent postseasons -- the Yankees are 8-3 against pitchers starting on short rest in the postseason during the Torre era.
The other ray of hope for the Twins (or for the Red Sox if the Yankees advance) is that New York's bullpen is so thin Torre felt it necessary to bring in Rivera with a six-run lead in the ninth inning. "I think I saw him throw three or four pitches and he was already ready,'' Gardenhire said. "I said, 'When the hell did (he get up)?' ''
That's just the way it is with the Yankees in October. One minute you're standing for the national anthem and the next thing you know, Rivera is on the mound. One night you're two outs from taking a 2-0 series lead and a couple nights later you're wondering whether it's too late to get a hotel in the Bahamas the last week of October.
"That team over there, you can't say enough about them,'' said Twins right fielder Jacque Jones, who hit his second homer of the series in the bottom of the first inning. "They're built for the World Series.''
Yeah, tell us about it.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
After cruising to a victory in Game 3, the Yankees are seemingly set to win another playoff series, writes Jim Caple.