NEW YORK -- Johan Santana's left arm has become one of
baseball's most prized possessions.
"Open the mike with your right hand, son," Gardenhire said.
More than anyone else, the 25-year-old Venezuelan is the key to
the Twins' chances of beating the New York Yankees in the
best-of-five first round of the playoffs. After going 20-6 and
leading the AL with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts, Santana will
start Game 1 on Tuesday night against Mike Mussina in a rematch of
last year's opener.
Santana is 13-0 in 15 starts since the All-Star break, compiling
a 1.21 ERA.
"Sandy Koufax, another left-hander, used to put up numbers like
that," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Those numbers don't exist
New York posted some big numbers, too, going a league-leading
101-61 and tying the Chicago White Sox for the most homers in the
majors at 242, a Yankees record.
But in the Bronx, the only number that really matters is 11 --
the total of postseason wins needed for a World Series title. New
York hasn't won one since 2000, more of an eternity for owner
George Steinbrenner than Boston's 86-year drought is for
long-suffering Red Sox fans.
The Boss issued another of his statements Monday, and even he is
voicing concern over his $180 million All-Star collection.
"I'm just hopeful -- hopeful that the pitching is OK and that we
are playing championship baseball," Steinbrenner said. "I am
hopeful for New York, and I want to give New York a championship."
New York's starters had a 4.82 ERA this season, sixth among the
14 AL teams, while Minnesota was first at 4.08, according to the
Elias Sports Bureau.
Jon Lieber, who started the season as the Yankees' fifth
starter, will open Game 2 on Wednesday against Brad Radke. Orlando
Hernandez, plagued by what he calls "dead arm," doesn't know
whether he'll be able to start Game 3 on Friday at the Metrodome
against Carlos Silva. Torre hasn't decided whether he'd replace him
with Kevin Brown, recovering from a broken left hand, or Javier
Vazquez, who has one win in nine starts since Aug. 6.
Because of that, Jason Giambi was dropped from the roster.
"Everybody keeps saying the Yankees really struggled this
year," Gardenhire said. "I wish we would have won a hundred games
Coming off their sixth AL pennant in eight years, the Yankees
won their seventh straight AL East title and went 4-2 against the
Twins. Meanwhile, Minnesota won its third consecutive Central title
since baseball's failed effort to eliminate the team in
The Twins' opening-day payroll of $54 million was less than
one-third of New York's, but Minnesota went 92-70, primarily
because the Twins allowed the fewest runs in the AL (715).
Santana's success bred confidence. Teammates couldn't believe
what he was doing on the mound, spinning pitches past batters like
some cartoon character.
"Every time the guy swings, the ball ducks," Torii Hunter
said. "It's pretty impressive."
Left unprotected by Houston in the 1999 winter meeting draft,
Santana was taken by Florida, then dealt to Minnesota the same day
for pitcher Jared Camp and cash. He didn't stick in the majors for
good until 2002, and last year went 12-3 to lead the league in
Everything fell into place for him on June 9. He was just 2-4 in
12 starts before beating the New York Mets 5-3 that night, getting
out of a seventh-inning, bases-loaded jam by striking out Mike
Cameron and Gerald Williams.
"From there, everything was much better," said Santana, who
has a $1.6 million salary and is eligible for free agency after
2006. "I feel relaxed and everything was, like, perfect."
In last year's opener, a 3-1 win by the Twins over Mussina,
Santana lasted only four innings, his day shortened by a cramp. He
had offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and since
has refined his mechanics and driven batters, well, batty.
"I want to make sure that when I throw my slider or my
changeup, they look the same as the fastball," he said. "I think
that's the difference."
Santana hasn't allowed a homer in seven starts since Aug. 23,
which should make him especially potent against New York's
hit-or-miss offense. While New York set a big league record with 61
come-from-behind wins, 43.4 percent of the Yankees' runs scored on
homers -- the fourth-highest percentage in the majors, according to
Alex Rodriguez, embarking on his first postseason with the
Yankees, realizes the difficulty of the task.
"You've got a 94-mile-an hour-fastball. He likes it right up in
the zone," A-Rod said. "He likes the changeup down in the zone.
The equalizer for him has been the little slider-cutter."
The Twins are happy Santana's on their side. After winning last
year's opener, Minnesota lost three in a row to New York.
"This year will be different," Hunter said. "I know it