Joe Mays pitched the Minnesota Twins to a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Angels in the first game of the American League Championship Series. The Twins need three more victories to earn a spot in the World Series.
It was the first Metrodome appearance for the Twins since ousting the Oakland Athletics from baseball's playoffs in the decisive game of their first round series on Sunday. More than 55,000 of the Minnesota faithful welcomed the team back home amid a blizzard of Homer Hankies and the reverberating ovations that are a post-season trademark of the Dome.
From the far corners of the Metrodome, most fans can't tell a curve ball from a slider as it crosses home plate. But the professionals can tell at a glance what a pitcher is throwing, and whether the pitches are doing what they're supposed to do.
On this night, Twins pitcher Brad Radke could see immediately that his teammate, Joe Mays, was throwing his good stuff.
"You could tell in the first inning. He had a live fastball, a lot of movement on his fastball. And his breaking stuff, he kept it down. So, if you do that you're going to have a good game," Radke said.
Mays did not have a good game in Oakland last week. Manager Ron Gardenhire took Mays out of that game in the fourth inning, after the right hander had given up six runs. Against the Angels he didn't even allow six baserunners in eight innings of work.
Reliever Eddie Guardado pitched the ninth. The only run scored on an error by shortstop Christian Guzman.
Gardenhire says his confidence in Mays never faltered. "I didn't really ever lose faith. He's one of our best pitchers. He was an All Star last year. He had a little bit of a rough start out there in Oakland, but he knew what he did wrong. He didn't attack the strike zone, he didn't attack the hitters. He likes pitching at home. He's very good here. And he was pumped up for this."
Mays says he sometimes gets into trouble by over-analyzing his performance while he's pitching. He says he's trying not to think too much on the mound about how to correct his pitches. Mays says in this game he let his catcher, A.J Pierzynski, do the thinking for him.
"So many times A.J.'s been telling me to go out there and stop being so mechanical. Go out there and just trust what I do have and have confidence in it. And that's finally what I did tonight. I put everything behind me, I set my head on my locker and went out and pitched the game that I think is the game of my career," Mays said.
Mays relies on a sinker ball. When it's working well, batters clip the top of the ball and beat it into the ground where it rolls toward an infielder. Sinker ball pitchers normally prefer to play on grass, which is better than artificial turf at slowing down those ground balls so the infielders can get to them. But Mays says even though it doesn't seem to fit his style, he loves pitching in the Metrodome, artificial turf and all.
"I don't know what it is; I'm a ground ball pitcher and this is turf. The ball gets through fast. But the thing is I love the mound, I love the presence out there, I love the way the fans are in the game. Obviously, everybody wants to be at home every chance you get. It doesn't matter if it's on the field or in life. You want to be at home because that's where you feel most comfortable," he said.
The Twins needed strong pitching to win game one because their hitters scored only two runs. Thirdbaseman Corey Koskie had two of the Twins' five hits, including an RBI double in the fifth inning.
"This is a pretty big win, but we've still got to win three more ball games. We can't put our eggs in one basket and get all excited because we won one game. We've still got to win three more," he said.
Three more victories over the Angels would make the Twins American League champions and send them to the World Series. But Angels manager Mike Scioscia cautions against penciling in any World Series teams after just one game of the league championship.
The Angels defeated the New York Yankees in their best-of-five first round series. And Scioscia says his team has a lot more baseball to play against the Twins.
"We just played a shorter series and lost the first game and came back. So, we'll turn the page and come out tomorrow. We're going to have to do more on the offensive side to pressure these guys, but we've always responded well from a tough loss. We've come out and played well and I'm sure the same will be tomorrow," Sciosia said.
Game two is also at the Metrodome. Scheduled pitchers are Rick Reed for the Twins and Ramon Ortiz for the Angels.More from MPR