On a bad wing and a prayer

Minnesota fans -- especially those who hung tough through the long, grim days of the Twins' not-so-recent past -- will cross their fingers, knock on wood, toss salt over their shoulders and pray that Brad Radke's shoulder stays in place Friday afternoon.

And if the baseball gods are paying attention, that shoulder not only will hold together, it should deliver a victory in what could be the final start of Radke's career.

The Anti-Pavano, Radke takes the mound in Game 3 with the only big-league team he's ever known down 0-2 to the Athletics and on the brink of elimination. He has a torn right labrum. He has a stress fracture in the same shoulder. His arm hurts with every pitch. Heck, it hurts enough that he avoids lifting his children. But no matter. With such an important game, Radke will pitch as long as he can, even if it requires duct tape.

You think Curt Schilling's Game 6 start in the 2004 ALCS was impressive? Hey, at least his right arm wasn't broken.

Radke is the only remaining Twin who was a teammate of Kirby Puckett. He joined the Twins in 1995 and for the past dozen seasons has been as reliable a part of Minnesota summers as mosquitoes at dusk. He's reached double figures in wins every season but two, averaging almost 13 wins a year. While the Twins were regularly finishing last and next to last (the immortal Ron Coomer was their All-Star representative in 1999), Radke was one of the few good reasons to go inside the Metrodome on a summer night. He was with the team when there was little hope, and he's there now that the Twins have made the jump to AL Central champs.

He was 12-9 with a 4.32 ERA this summer, which is astounding given he has been pitching with a tear in the labrum for the past two years. Torn labrums often end careers, let alone seasons, but what the heck -- Radke plans on retiring this winter so he figured there was nothing to lose and just kept on pitching through the pain, going 8-3 with a 2.83 ERA from May 29 to Aug. 25.

But then came that stress fracture. Radke lasted just two innings in that Aug. 25 start, and when he walked off the mound, no one knew whether he would walk back on one again.

"When we took him out and he sat down," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said at a news conference Thursday, "I thought this is it, we are not going to see this man again throw the baseball."

"Part of me said, 'You are going to make it back,' " Radke said. "The other part of me said at the press conference, 'Well, shoot, I don't know if this is going to happen or not.' But, you know, I had hope, and things worked out for the best."

Radke rested the arm over the next couple weeks, testing it occasionally and deciding in the final week of the regular season that it felt good enough to pitch again. He started last Thursday and gave up just one run and three hits in five innings.

He says the arm feels strong -- or at least as strong as it's going to feel -- and he's ready to go in Game 3 with the season on the line. He says he has no personal pitch limit, but given that he's thrown only 57 pitches in the past six weeks, the best he can realistically hope is to pitch deep enough into the game to give his team a chance to win.

"It's a lot of pressure on a guy who hasn't pitched but five innings [since Aug. 25]," Gardenhire said, "but if there is one guy who can go out there and do something special, it would be Brad Radke."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com