Yanks opt to start Brown vs. Twins' Silva

Updated: October 7, 2004, 8:49 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Kevin Brown crouched in the corner of the interview room beneath Yankee Stadium, his hands cupped together, listening intently as Joe Torre spoke. Then, as the New York manager walked out, he spotted the pitcher he had just picked to start Game 3 against Minnesota.

Orlando Hernandez

Kevin Brown

"Hey, Brownie, I didn't know you were here," Torre said. "I wouldn't have said that."

Just a month after breaking his left hand while punching a clubhouse wall in frustration, the right-hander was selected over Orlando Hernandez and Javier Vazquez to pitch Friday at the Metrodome against Carlos Silva.

Such is the status of the Yankees' pitching staff that a 39-year-old with an ailing back is the best option in the best-of-five series, tied at 1 after New York's 7-6, 12-inning win Wednesday night.

"It's a great honor," Brown said, his voice filling with emotion. "I think a lot of people in the clubhouse know now what I've been through this year that may not have known beforehand, but things kind of came to light. And I appreciate the opportunity. It was a while there I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get out of bed to get back on the field."

Brown has been surly for much of the season, pitching in pain, and he said Wednesday he wasn't sure whether his back would need an operation for the second time in 2½ years. He's pitched just twice since Sept. 3, the night he shocked the Yankees by trying to punch out a wall during a 3-1 loss to Baltimore.

With Brown looking on, Torre described the team's feeling about Brown, an intense and often unsociable competitor who apologized to his teammates for his bizarre behavior.

"We were all angry for a short period of time. Kevin talked to the club a few days later," Torre said. "Just like you dismiss a loss yesterday, you just dismiss it. I know everybody listens a lot to what Gary Sheffield said, and they were teammates in Miami when they won the World Series in '97, and you could not have anybody talking in more glowing terms than Gary did about Brownie as far as competitiveness, and that's probably part of the reason why he did what he did."

Hernandez, coming off shoulder surgery in May 2003, won his first eight decisions after rejoining the Yankees at midseason, but he lost his final two and has been bothered by what he calls a "dead arm." El Duque threw a bullpen session before Game 2 and sounded hopeful about pitching in Game 4 Saturday.

"Initially, I was a little scared, but as the bullpen went along, I felt a little better," Hernandez said through a translator. "I feel better now. I'm happier because I'm progressing."

Torre hasn't decided whether his fourth game starter will be Hernandez or Vazquez, who is struggling with his mechanics and has one win in nine starts since Aug. 6. Torre didn't make a decision on Game 3 until Wednesday.

In his first start back, Brown got just two outs at Boston on Sept. 26, allowing four runs and six hits to the Red Sox. Last Saturday at Toronto, he looked far sharper, giving up only one hit and an unearned run in five innings.

"We really liked what we saw Saturday," Torre said, adding that Brown has felt good all week and his 10 previous postseason starts were a big factor.

For Brown, dealing with his back has become part of life, perhaps even motivation. In June 2002, he had an operation to repair a herniated disc and disc fragments that pressed on a nerve.

Expected to be the Yankees' ace after New York acquired him from Los Angeles last December, he went 10-6 with a 4.09 ERA and was on the disabled list from June 10 to July 29 because of his back. He wouldn't describe how the back feels.

"No one has to deal with the pain but me. It's my responsibility and my burden to bear," he said. "The big thing is, despite whatever you're feeling, being able to go out and throw the ball. And I've done it in the past, and I've done it quite well. I've had some really good years when my back really bothered me."

He made it sound as if he won't know for a while whether more surgery would help.

"It will be, I'm sure, a series of tests to see exactly where things stand," he said. "Once you have back surgery, your diagnostic tests aren't necessarily as easy to read. You have scar tissue, you have that kind of stuff going on, so it's not as easy to tell."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press