|Tuesday, October 8
Twins win one for Bud
By Jim Caple
MINNEAPOLIS -- Do they still look like a team that should be exterminated, Bud?
With Selig watching from the owner's suite, the Twins took one more step toward the commissioner's World Series From Hell when starter Joe Mays shrugged off a poor Division Series performance to silence the Anaheim Angels with a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
And remember, this was against a team that just whipped the Yankees, beating up on Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and David Wells for 31 runs and nine home runs in four games, rallying time and again against the team that had the best record in baseball. Then the Twins held the Angels to an unearned run and four singles, retiring 19 of the final 21 Anaheim batters. The Angels did not manage a hit after the fourth inning.
In other words, it was a mighty impressive performance by an aberration.
Give Selig credit, though. He and Twins owner Carl Pohlad may have been guilty of attempted franchise-cide, he may have angered so many fans here that at least two companies started printing "Contract Bud" T-shirts while someone else started an anti-Bud web site, and he may have called the best story of the season "an aberration" but the commissioner had the guts to show up at a soldout Metrodome. Selig didn't sit in public view -- nothing good could have come from that -- but he did make himself available to several reporters in the back of the press box before leaving the stadium in the seventh inning.
"I understand why I took a lot of heat from a lot of people," he told reporters. "I don't have control over it when I deliver unpopular messages. Contraction was a 30-0 vote by owners. To this day owners thought we should have contracted by four clubs."
Well, that's reassuring to hear. When it comes to the repugnant contraction plan, some owners only regret it wasn't repugnant enough.
Selig said that he didn't think that the Twins were using him for inspiration his postseason, but if so, "If it happens that I present the World Series trophy to the Minnesota Twins, and if I'm their Knute Rockne, then they owe me something."
There was no immediate word on whether the Twins will vote Selig a postseason share.
"I'm not updated on the whole Notre Dame scene but this team is playing for a bigger purpose than making him eat crow," Twins player rep Denny Hocking said. "We're playing for a greater purpose, to be on top at the end of the season."
Hocking was very critical of Selig during the contraction issue, and the commissioner phoned him once this summer to give him a piece of his mind. He also summoned Hocking to a Metrodome office for a one-on-one meeting just before Tuesday's game.
"The overall gist of what he said to me was that the contraction thing was never anything against us as an organization," Hocking said. "He said it may have been him leading the charge and getting crucified in the papers because of it but he said it wasn't personal against the players on the Twins team."
Asked whether he bought that version of events, Hocking was diplomatic.
"The bottom line is he's the commissioner of baseball and he was instrumental in getting a labor deal done," he said. "And contraction won't happen for four years and maybe we can get a stadium deal done here in that time.
"I feel good that he came to Minnesota and that he singled me out and not A.J. Pierzynski or Doug Mientkiewicz because those guys had a job to do and get ready for. But I'm hurt, so I didn't."
The most important pregame preparation, however, was by Mays. He pitched poorly in Game 2 of the Division Series against Oakland, digging the Twins into a 6-0 hole without getting past the fourth inning.
Some therefore questioned manager Ron Gardenhire's decision to start him in the opener of this series but Mays pitched eight superb innings. He held the Angels to one unearned run, four singles and retired the final 13 batters he faced. "That ball of his was dancing," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "So much that somebody might think he was cheating."
It wasn't what Mays was putting on the ball though, it was what he had taken off his shoulders. After concluding his problem in Oakland was thinking too much, Mays said his mental approach Tuesday was giving himself what amounted to a pregame lobotomy.
"The key was that I left my head up here in my locker," Mays said. "Sometimes you have to leave your brain up here and let the catcher be your brain for you."
While Mays let Pierzynski do the thinking and his pitches do the talking, third baseman Corey Koskie provided a 2-1 lead with a fifth-inning double off Anaheim starter Kevin Appier. Mays shut down the Angels the next three innings and then Eddie Guardado rebounded from his own shaky performance in Oakland to close out the game against the heart of Anaheim's order.
"In the eighth inning I looked at their lineup and saw that if Joe retired them 1-2-3 that I'd have to go against their big three hitters," Guardado said. "I thought, 'Aww, crap.' But whatever happens, happens."
What happened was Guardado struck out Darin Erstad and then Troy Glaus with two outs and a runner on while sealing the win and giving the Twins a tremendous boost. They shut down the Rally Monkeys cold, gained renewed confidence in Mays and Guardado and moved three wins from the World Series.
Not a bad comeback for a team that received a death sentence from the commissioner 11 months ago.
"I'd like for him to come into the clubhouse and apologize and talk to us," Hunter said. "I'd like to meet him. I never have.
"But that's not a big thing anymore. It was a big thing at the time, but it's a little thing now. We can't be contracted."
At least, they can't for four years, thanks to the new basic agreement between the owners and players. Apparently, an issue Selig insisted was absolutely crucial last winter suddenly is no longer so important.
"This will be a very successful club because of the agreement (and increased revenue-sharing). This team will be a beneficiary," Selig said, adding he was happy to watch them Tuesday.
"From now on the focus is on the field," he said. "This is a remarkable club. They have a right to be proud."
For once, no one disputed him.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.