- Alan Schwarz, MLB
- 0 Shares
Having fought back from their backs up against one wall, the Yankees are looking to Kevin Brown to punch their way through the next one.
Brown, five weeks after breaking his hand slugging a locker-room façade, will start Game 3 for New York when the American League Division Series resumes in Minnesota on Friday night with the series tied 1-1. Though Brown has a reputation as a ferocious and focused big-game pitcher, the veteran will take the mound trying to piece his game together knowing he wasn't even the Yankees' first choice.
Yankees manager Joe Torre waited to name Brown as his Game 3 starter until Wednesday afternoon, when he confirmed that Orlando Hernandez's tired arm had not recovered enough to pitch until at least Saturday's Game 4. Hernandez had been the Yankees' best pitcher for most of the second half, a time when Brown, expected before the season to be the staff ace, endured painful back trouble and finally self-destructed by breaking his own hand in frustration. He has pitched only twice thereafter, a disastrous eight-batter start at Boston and last Saturday's more encouraging five-inning stint against Toronto.
To get an idea of how iffy Brown's stock stands at the moment, consider that Torre selected him not just after Hernandez was deemed unavailable, and not even because he's more effective than Javier Vazquez -- who's so lost he's hanging out with Amelia Earhart -- but because he has more postseason experience. At this point, Brown will take it.
"It's a great honor," Brown said. "To have been through what I've been through this year, and to have an opportunity to go out and contribute at this point in time, you know, I appreciate it. I really do."
Brown didn't answer many questions with his two starts after returning from the broken hand. Against Boston, his emotions surging, he overthrew his pitches too high in the zone and got hammered, lasting just two-thirds of an inning. He maintained greater control versus Toronto, allowing his two-seamer to crash through the bottom of the strike zone.
"Everything was there," said a National League team's advance scout who watched both games. "In Boston he was up by the letters with all his pitches. But against Toronto he was pitching to both sides and his ball was diving.
"He's basically a sinkerballer. His velocity, he was pitching at 93, 94 before for most of the time a couple of years back. He liked to challenge guys with the fastball up at times. He doesn't have that juice now. His game is he has to locate, stay ahead and use the sinker. He's got a little macho in him. He has to stay within himself."
Brown agreed, noting that his success has often relied on how he has controlled his emotions. He began young and tempestuous, so inwardly riveted that he looked like he might spontaneously combust and leave a pile of Kevin Brown dust right there on the rubber. He learned to tone that down a bit.
After moving to New York this winter he looked forward to a healthy year but was felled by an intestinal parasite and then renewed back pain. He finally took it out on the clubhouse wall, enraging his teammates and organization and jeopardizing his availability for these playoffs.
"Obviously, this year, there was some added frustration with what happened early on, being sick for so long and getting hurt again," Brown said. "I didn't do as good of a job using it in a positive manner."
Brown has been positively brilliant in the Division Series before. In 1997, he got a no-decision in his Marlins' 2-1 victory against San Francisco. The next year saw perhaps his career's defining moment, when as a Padre he struck out 16 over eight innings of two-hit shutout ball to beat Houston's Randy Johnson 2-1 in Game 1. He came back on three days' rest and pitched well as San Diego won again by the same tight score.
Today's Kevin Brown retains neither the aura nor the stuff that helped him win those games. "He's a different guy now," the NL scout said. "The split isn't that effective anymore. He'll still throw it. His stuff just isn't as good."
The scout also warned against the threat that the Twins present on the basepaths as much as the batter's box: "He's not a good fielder and he's slow to the plate. They can run on him. They'll take advantage -- hit and run, stealing, that kind of stuff."
Brown maintained that his back is still painful but said he would pitch through it, as always. Torre acknowledged that he chose Brown for Game 3 in part because the pitcher showed greater self-control in his five innings last weekend at Toronto, not overthrowing and taking a more balanced approach to getting hitters out.
As far as the now-guaranteed Game 4 goes, Torre is leaning toward Vazquez, as Hernandez's shoulder is still weak. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire named his ace, Johan Santana, whether the Twins are up or down two games to one.
With all the Yankees' emotions sky-high after last night's win, Brown enters Game 3 having to keep his own in check. "The great thing with Kevin is we don't need a nine-inning shutout from him," Alex Rodriguez said. "All we need is a good performance. He's been a big-game pitcher."
Not since 1998, though, six years and about six miles an hour ago. If breaking his hand is not this year's defining moment for Kevin Brown, Friday night probably will be.
Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His new book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," is published by St. Martin's Press and can be ordered on Alan's Web site.
11hESPN Stats & Information
14hESPN Stats & Information
2dMatt Walks, ESPN.com