SERIES: AL division series; Yankees lead 2-1.
For the second straight October, Santana will come back on short rest to pitch a must-win Game 4 in the AL division series against the New York Yankees at the Metrodome.
Santana, the leading candidate for the AL Cy Young, has reeled off an amazing 14 consecutive victories in 17 starts since a 2-0 loss to Detroit on July 11, pitching to an ERA just under 2.00 during that stretch.
The left-hander scattered nine hits over seven innings in Game 1 at New York on Tuesday, pitching the Twins to a 2-0 victory.
But Minnesota dropped a 7-6, 12-inning decision in the Bronx in Game 2 and was pounded 8-4 in Game 3 at the Metrodome on Friday night, once again putting the pressure on Santana to keep its season alive.
Last October, Santana pitched four scoreless innings before leaving with stiffness in his left forearm in a series-opening 3-1 victory at New York. After the Twins dropped the next two games, Santana was back on the hill on three-days’ rest for Game 4 at home, but couldn’t hold off the Yankees.
The 25-year-old Venezuelan southpaw was pounded for six runs in only 3 2-3 innings as New York rolled to an 8-1 victory, denying the Twins a second straight trip to the AL championship series.
Despite the haunting similarity in situations, Santana is undaunted by his task in Game 4.
“Last year I pitched Game 1 against New York and I have to pitch Game 4, but, you know, it’s nothing,” this year’s AL leader in strikeouts (265) and ERA (2.61) said before Game 3 on Friday. “Last year is last year. It’s not even close to what it is this year.
“You have to go out there and do your best and whatever it takes, you know, it could be like I said, 3, 4, 5, 25 days, it doesn’t matter. You have to make sure you do your best in order to win the game.”
The Twins were two outs away from taking a commanding 2-0 series lead before the Yankees staged a two-run rally in the bottom of the 12th on Wednesday night.
With archrival Boston waiting in the ALCS for a potential rematch of last year’s epic seven-game series, the Yankees will send right-hander Javier Vazquez to the hill.
Vazquez, who wasn’t named the Game 4 starter until Thursday, will be making his postseason debut. The 27-year-old native of Puerto Rico struggled in the second half, going 4-5 with a 6.92 ERA in 14 starts.
He was more than thankful manager Joe Torre decided to give him the ball Saturday.
“I wanted to pitch in the playoffs,” Vazquez said. “But I know that I made the errors (in the second half). I’m glad I’m getting this opportunity.”
Kevin Brown, hampered by a bad back, intestinal parasite and broken left hand during the regular season, made the most of his start Friday night. The veteran right-hander pitched six strong innings and Derek Jeter drove in three runs as New York guaranteed itself at worst a trip home for Game 5 on Sunday night.
“As long as you can keep them from scoring, you know you’ve done your job for the team,” Brown said.
Despite his team’s two-game skid, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire continues to put up a brave front.
“We’re packing our suitcases (for New York),” he said after Game 3. “We’ve got Johan going tomorrow and we all know how good he’s been. That’s important. And then we have (Brad) Radke going back to New York, we’re packing our suitcases and finish this thing up in New York where we started.”
Down 8-1 in the ninth, Minnesota did show signs of life by rallying for three runs. But Mariano Rivera got three straight outs after entering with the bases loaded. It was not a save situation for Rivera, who suffered just his third blown save in 33 playoff chances in New York’s Game 2 victory.
If the Twins force a Game 5, Radke will pitch on three-days’ rest for Minnesota against Mike Mussina, New York’s Game 1 starter.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Yankees - AL East champions. Twins - AL Central champions.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Yankees - SS Jeter (.292, 23 HRs, 78 RBIs, 23 SBs), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.286, 36, 106, 28 SBs), RF Gary Sheffield (.290, 36, 121, 117 runs), LF Hideki Matsui (.298, 31, 108), CF Bernie Williams (.262, 22, 70), C Jorge Posada (.272, 21, 81), DH Ruben Sierra (.244, 17, 65), 1B John Olerud (.259, 9, 48 with Seattle and New York), 2B Miguel Cairo (.292, 6, 42). Twins - LF Shannon Stewart (.304, 11, 47 in 378 at-bats), RF Jacque Jones (.254, 24, 80), CF Torii Hunter (.271, 23, 81, 21 SBs), 1B Justin Morneau (.271, 19, 58 in 280 ABs), 3B Corey Koskie (.251, 25, 71), DH Lew Ford (.299, 15, 72, 20 SBs), SS Cristian Guzman (.274, 8, 46), 2B Michael Cuddyer (.263, 12, 45 in 339 ABs), C Henry Blanco (.206, 10, 37).
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Vazquez (14-10, 4.91 ERA). Vazquez went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in two starts against the Twins this year. He was 5-6 with a 5.79 ERA in 16 road starts.
TWINS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Santana (20-6, 2.61 ERA). Santana is 1-0 with a 2.66 ERA in five career regular season appearances, including two starts, against the Yankees. At home this year, he was 11-4 with a 2.62 ERA.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Yankees, 4-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Yankees - OF Williams extended his major league record by hitting his 20th postseason homer in Game 3. In 107 career playoff games, Williams also has baseball’s record for RBIs with 68. … 3B Rodriguez, C Posada and OF Matsui each had two hits apiece against LHP Santana in Game 1. … The Yankees have won three straight playoff games at the Metrodome dating to last year’s ALDS. Twins - Minnesota has won the opener in all five of its postseason series since 2002—but is 2-11 with nine straight losses in all the other games. … The Twins pounded RHP Vazquez in his last start at the Metrodome on Aug. 17, reaching him for six runs and nine hits over 6 2-3 innings in an 8-2 win. … OF Jones went 2-for-5 with a homer in Game 3. He also homered in Game 1 in his first game back with the Twins following the death of his father last week.
POSTSEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Yankees - 1-0 on the road. Twins - 0-1 at home.