Originally created 09/30/03

History says Twins are overmatched against Mussina, Yankees

NEW YORK -- All the numbers say the same thing: The Minnesota Twins are simply overmatched against Mike Mussina and the New York Yankees.

The Twins are 0-13 against New York the last two years - the first time ever the Yankees have swept consecutive season series from an opponent.

Mussina, who will start Game 1 of the best-of-five division series Tuesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, is an incredible 20-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 24 career starts against Minnesota.

"I don't care what happened in the past," Twins star Torii Hunter said. "This is the postseason, this is a different feeling. I'm ready to play. I come here to win."

Hunter and his teammates have plenty of reasons to believe they can, despite their recent history against the AL East champions.

Although the Yankees outscored Minnesota 49-13 this season, all seven games were in April. New York was en route to an 18-3 start, while the Twins stumbled out of the gate 9-12.

Since then, Minnesota juiced up its offense by adding leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart and solidified its pitching staff by moving young left-hander Johan Santana from the bullpen to the top of the rotation.

"We haven't seen them in so long," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They are basically not the same team that we played."

The 24-year-old Santana (12-3) will start the playoff opener, only his second appearance at Yankee Stadium. Featuring a fastball in the low 90s mph and an outstanding changeup, he went 8-0 in his final 12 starts of the season.

Despite Santana's age and limited experience - he struggled in six relief outings for the AL Central champions last postseason - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire never hesitated in giving him the ball in Game 1.

"That tells you all Santana is one nasty sucker, boy," Hunter said.

Santana made a pair of relief appearances against the Yankees this season, striking out 10 in 5 2-3 scoreless innings.

"We haven't seen a whole lot of him. We've got film, tapes, but until you face him for the first time you never really know," said Yankees slugger Jason Giambi, who will be the DH and bat cleanup Tuesday. "He's got a great, live arm. I know he's been red hot the second half of the season. Everybody in this room knows what kind of pitcher this kid is."

Gardenhire and several Twins players spoke of Santana's uncommon poise and composure. He'll need to control his emotions Tuesday, but he said he wasn't nervous.

"No, I'm excited about it. This is cool," Santana said. "Against the Yankees, one of the best teams in baseball, it's going to be a lot of excitement out there."

Santana's second-half success mirrored that of the Twins, who were a major-league best 46-23 after the All-Star break.

They overcame a 7 1/2 -game deficit at the break, beating the Chicago White Sox five straight times in mid-September to take control of a tight race and win their second division title in two years under Gardenhire.

"The last month to me has been must-win baseball," said Stewart, acquired in a trade with Toronto during the All-Star break. "I don't know what the playoffs are like, but to me it can't be much harder than that."

The Yankees do know all about the postseason - and the pressure that comes with it. They were upset by Anaheim in the first round last October, and owner George Steinbrenner won't stand still for a third consecutive season without winning the World Series.

With a $180 million payroll, another playoff failure could even cost Torre his job.

"I don't think anybody else could put more pressure on me than I put on myself," Torre said. "And yes, Mr. Steinbrenner has been more vocal. It has not been that he's said more this year, it's just been more public. ... But as far as the pressure, I feel intense pressure, but it has nothing to do with the fact that we didn't win last year."

After Mussina (17-8) tries to dominate the Twins again, Torre will go with Andy Pettitte (21-8) in Game 2 on Thursday night against Brad Radke (14-10).

Roger Clemens (17-9) is slated to pitch Game 3 on Saturday at the Metrodome against Kyle Lohse (14-11).

"Right now I think we are playing about as well as we have all season," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who missed all seven games against Minnesota this year because of a dislocated shoulder.

As for the small-market Twins, whose opening day payroll was $55.6 million, they have grown to relish the role they're most accustomed to.

"We're the Twins, we have to be the underdog," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "We came up that way. We enjoy it. It just comes with being a Minnesota Twin."

Never more so than in this series.


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