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AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES * ANGELS VS. MINNESOTA

Just Your Average, 'Everyday' Save

Baseball: In last appearance, Guardado nearly blew Twins' lead in series-clinching win over A's. Things go much more smoothly Tuesday.

October 09, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins' 2-1 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of the American League championship series Tuesday night came with an action-packed Eddie Guardado save, defibrillator not included.

There was the obligatory one-out walk to Tim Salmon--1-2-3 innings are as rare for Guardado as World Series appearances are for the Angels--a peculiar pitch-out with a 1-and-2 count to Troy Glaus, and a grueling at-bat by Glaus, who fouled off three two-strike pitches before taking a low-and-inside slider for strike three.

But this wasn't the heart-stuck-in-the-throat roller-coaster ride that Guardado put his teammates, fans and friends through on Sunday, when the left-hander nearly blew a 5-1 lead, giving up four hits, including a three-run home run to Mark Ellis, before finishing a 5-4 division series-clinching victory in Oakland.

"I had about 25 voice mail messages when our plane landed [Sunday night] and the first one was from Rick Aguilera," Guardado said, referring to the former Twin reliever. "He said, 'What are you doing? You're giving me a heart attack. I thought you were better than that. You're going to send me to the hospital.' "

Guardado, a Twin set-up man who made so many appearances from 1993-2001 he is known as "Everyday Eddie," converted 45 of 51 save opportunities in his first year as a closer. But none was as tortuous as Sunday, when he needed 28 pitches and went through seven batters, pushing the Twins to the brink of disaster.

Asked what he told Guardado after Sunday's game, Twin Manager Ron Gardenhire said, "None of it's printable." But a conversation between the manager and closer during Monday's workout had a much different tone.

"He went through a tough time in Oakland and scared everybody to death," Gardenhire said. "He came to me on the field during the workout and said, 'Don't lose faith.' I said, 'Eddie, I'd never do that. I've given you the ball. You're one of the big reasons we're here.' I have all the faith in the world in him."

That's why Gardenhire didn't think twice about going to Guardado Tuesday night, even though sparkling starter Joe Mays needed only 98 pitches to all but shut down a potent Angel lineup through eight innings.

"He leads the league in saves, he's our guy" said Twin bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek. Guardado's nerves got a little wracked during the eighth inning, while Mays pitched to the eighth, ninth and leadoff batters in the Angel lineup.

"I was thinking if Joe goes 1-2-3 here, I get the big-time hitters coming up," Guardado said. "Oh my God."

Guardado opened with a strikeout of Darin Erstad--no shock there; Erstad has two hits and seven strikeouts in 15 career at-bats against Guardado and has always hated dealing with the different arm angles Guardado uses for his fastball and slider.

Salmon walked, and Garret Anderson flied to right. Guardado just missed with his slider on a 2-and-2 pitch to Glaus and then doubled up on the breaking ball, slipping another borderline slider past Glaus that umpire Ed Montague called a strike, ending the game as a Metrodome crowd of 55,562 erupted.

"Glaus is a battler," Guardado said. "I knew he was looking dead-red [fastball] with a full count, but A.J. [Pierzynski, Twin catcher] put down the three-sign for the slider, I threw it and got the job done."

The key to the inning, pitching coach Rick Anderson said, was Guardado featuring his slider over his fastball, which is hardly in the Troy Percival class.

"Eddie said, 'Man, in Oakland I had nothing,' " Anderson said. "He had nothing because he was forcing it, humping up, trying to overthrow everything. Today he just let it happen and didn't force his pitches. That was the difference."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Late Bloomer

From a spot in the Twins' rotation as a rookie through years as a situational reliever, Eddie Guardado, 32, has traveled a long road to become an All-Star closer. Guardado's career numbers, all with the Twins:

*--* Year G IP H BB SO W-L SV ERA 1993 19 94 2/3 123 36 46 3-8 0 6.18 1994 4 17 26 4 8 0-2 0 8.47 1995 51 91 1/3 99 45 71 4-9 2 5.12 1996 83 73 2/3 61 33 74 6-5 4 5.25 1997 69 46 45 17 54 0-4 1 3.91 1998 79 65 2/3 66 28 53 3-1 0 4.52 1999 63 48 37 25 59 2-5 2 4.50 2000 70 61 2/3 55 25 52 7-4 9 3.94 2001 67 66 2/3 47 23 67 7-1 12 3.51 2002 68 67 2/3 53 18 70 1-3 45 2.93

*--*

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