By Jon Lane
Ron Gardenhire officially named Carl Pavano (yes, him) his Game 3 starter. Apparently old Pav emerged from that pregame embrace unscathed.
Give Pavano this: He stayed healthy and pitched well at times, and shared a good line with reporters Wednesday night about being heavily booed during pregame introductions.
“Hey, I don’t blame them,” Pavano said. “I’d boo me too after the four years I spent here.”
The normally genial and eloquent Gardenhire was vague as to why Pavano was selected over Scott Baker and his team-leading 15 wins to start the potential elimination game for the Twins, placing the onus of the decision on pitching coach Rick Anderson.
“Pavano will be pitching,” Gardenhire said. “They made sure to tell me that just announce Pavano. [Anderson] doesn’t want to answer any more questions about it. Pavano will be pitching Game 3, Baker four.”
Baker started Tuesday’s epic one-game playoff against the Tigers, pitching six innings, and would have taken his turn on a regular four days of rest, whereas Pavano last pitched on October 4. Gardenhire cut off a question about the thought process behind the choice of the enigmatic and embattled Pavano over his staff ace.
“Because my pitching coach said Pavano,” Gardenhire said. “That’s the thought process. That’s as far as we have to go.”
No need to rehash Pavano’s wonderful four-season tenure in New York, where he was paid $39.5 million for making a grand total of 26 starts. Conversely, the right-hander started 33 games for the Twins and Indians while pitching to a 2.70 ERA in two starts against the Yankees. And while Baker has never started a playoff game, Pavano posted a 1.00 ERA for the Marlins in the 2003 World Series, including the eight innings of one-run ball in Game 4 against New York that made him the most sought-after free agent pitcher on the market that winter.
Little did the Yankees know what they’d receive on their return investment. The Twins, however, acquired Pavano in an August trade with the Indians for a player to be named later and were rewarded with a 5-4 record and a 4.64 ERA in 12 starts.
When Nick Blackburn takes the ball in Game 2 Friday night, he’ll have a stronger support system. Closer Joe Nathan will be available along with set-up man Jesse Crain, who was held out of Game 1 with a sore groin.
“This time of year everybody says they’re ready to pitch,” Gardenhire said. “Nathan needed it for sure. That was a bad thing we didn’t get to use him, but also a good thing. I think they’ll all be ready for tomorrow night.”
What does a manager do when his team is 0-8 against another while being outscored 48-27? Change your luck? Change hotels? No. But when you’re down 0-1 in a Division Series, there’s absolutely no room for error.
“You can’t make any mistakes,” Gardenhire said. “You can’t walk people. There have been a lot of late game losses for us just because they’re such professional hitters. If you make one mistake, they get you. I wish I had all the answers to say wow, this is why we lose here; this is why we don’t win. It’s not that simple. We have had our opportunities. We just haven’t come up with big hits.”
If you ask Denard Span, luck does play a role, and the Twins have had none in the Yankees’ plush new home.
“I think we had bad luck,” Span said. “We got walked off three times earlier in the year here. Three games that we if we get a big hit we would have won. I think every team has a team that they maybe don’t have good luck at certain places against and unfortunately, we just haven’t had good luck here. But I don’t think anybody in the clubhouse believes that there’s a hex or anything going on. We still believe we can win, beat the Yankees.”