An awesome day in Minnesota
My main thing going into this, even last night at the hotel, was to just come out and focus on doing my job. I think that might get a little misconstrued when you talk about, ?What exactly is a pitcher?s job?? Well, Greg Maddux taught me this in an interview I saw with him years ago. The interviewer was like, ?Oh gosh, you?re such an amazing pitcher. You?ve won all these Cy Youngs and you?ve done this and you?ve done that,? and Maddux told the guy, ?Look, all I do is make pitches. Everything else just happens.? And it?s that simple. A pitcher?s job is to make pitches, period. Do that, and that?s all you can do.
It goes back to a speedboat analogy I like to use. If I can just control the speedboat from up front and make pitches, then the wins and the ERA and the playoffs and the awards and all that other stuff is just kind of behind that, in the wake. Leading the way is me making pitches, and I can?t try to come out here thinking that single-handedly, I have to beat Johan Santana, and the Twins, and the Metrodome, and 55,000 fans, and the noise. You start thinking like that, and it?s like walking up a mountain trying to pull a two-ton trailer behind you, and it seems impossible.
And that?s the distinction when you talk about professional athletes as opposed to amateur athletes. The pros, the ones at the highest level, they know how to narrow their focus on what it is they need to do. They can compartmentalize. What is my job, exactly? My job is to go out on the mound, be totally mellow, and make pitches the best I can. Everything else will happen, and those guys will get themselves out, if I make the pitches.
So that was my main focus. I slept like a baby last night. I was actually under the weather a little bit last night, so I took about 20,000 milligrams of Vitamin C powder and had some TheraFlu to help me get to sleep, and I was fine. The tough thing was this morning, coming out and getting ready to pitch at 10 o?clock Pacific Time, because we were just on the West Coast for two weeks. You have to get yourself on a different sleep schedule.
Coming into this playoff game, I think it was different for me emotionally this year because before my career arc was like, ?OK, Z, you?re in Double-A, you?re in Triple-A, boom, you?re in the big leagues, and boom again, you?re in the playoffs. And then the next year — big leagues, playoffs. And the next year — big leagues, playoffs. And the next year, same thing. Four straight years that was me, and then I experienced a lull. No playoffs for two years. And I started to realize how rare it is, how important it is, how much pressure it is, and all of that. So it was a little different for me this time, dealing with those emotions. You realize, ‘Hey, I can?t take this for granted.’ I?ve been to the playoffs five years now, but it takes not going to realize how special it is when you do go.
As far as the game itself goes, wow. Johan Santana is my favorite pitcher to watch. Johan and Derek Lowe. I don?t know if I?ve matched up with Johan recently, but I actually did watch him a little today, and normally I don?t watch the guy I?m facing. So that was fun, watching his greatness and trying to match it. And it was great for us to get that 2-0 lead. That really helped me. I knew that if I just did my job and held them down, we wouldn?t have to beg for runs later on. You can?t ask for a lot of offense off a guy like Johan, so to get two that early was unbelievable.
The first inning was bigger than people might think. I walked the leadoff guy, which is never a good idea, and when Jason Kendall threw him out, it was so huge. And that just shows you something about Kendall. The guy?s a 10-year veteran of the big leagues, and he?d be the first guy to tell you he struggled with his throwing last year, but he has so much integrity and passion and pride, he went out and did something about it. He worked on it over the winter, and I don?t know exactly what the numbers are, but it?s been a different world for him as far as throwing guys out. His percentage has to be at least double or triple what it was last year, and to do what he did, gunning the first guy to go off him in the playoffs, that?s the kind of thing I really appreciate as a teammate. Not because it saved my butt, which it did, but because I know how much work he put in to make that moment possible.
And if that rally turned into something for them, that could have been a lead that we never got back. It would have put all the momentum in their court. Johan would have been pitching with a lead, and that could have changed the entire complexion of the game.
The biggest out of the game was getting Joe Mauer to fly out in the eighth. Runner on third, two out, AL batting champion. It was by far the biggest at-bat of the game for me, and it ended up being my last. I knew I was done after the eighth. I was exhausted. People don?t realize that in this atmosphere, in this environment, 92 pitches feels like 192.
And what can I saw about Frank Thomas? Just ridiculous, that guy. And as big as that first homer was, the second one ended up being even bigger because of what happened to Milton Bradley in the ninth, losing that ball in the roof. This place is crazy, man. For whatever reason, they put a white roof on it. I guess nobody told them baseballs are white or something. We need to bring back those orange glow-in-the-dark balls we used to have growing up for games here. That?d be a lot easier, because even the Twins guys, if you look back in the archives, their guys have lost tons of balls here. So Milton loses one, too, they get a cheap run, and all of a sudden Frank?s homer is the nail in the coffin. Without that homer, if what happened in the bottom of the ninth had still happened, that just takes the spirit right out of you. You?d be like, ‘Oh man, we just battled these guys for 2 1/2 hours, and now we?re gonna go extra innings? Uncle.’ But hey, Frank sets the tone for us. He?s the best. MVP. That?s why he?s a Hall of Famer.
People are gonna say this series is over because we beat Johan in the dome, but they still have the best home record in baseball, and obviously Johan didn?t pitch in all those games
they won. It doesn?t matter who you throw out on the mound for them in this place. We can?t let down at all. Boof Bonser is pitching for them tomorrow, and we can?t say facing a young guy is an automatic win for us by any means. The guy?s in the big leagues and in the starting rotation for a division champion, and you have no idea what the playoffs pull out of guys. If Boof Bonser is a straight gamer, he?s going to come out and shove. And me and Eric Chavez know more than anybody, even a two-game lead isn?t safe in these things. We?ve been on teams that blew those leads, and we?re not taking anything for granted. Let?s wait until that last out of that third win until we even think about the series as a whole.
One last thing, about the noise here. You know that Kevin Costner movie, "Love of the Game"? You know when he talked about, ‘Quieting the mechanism?’ I don?t know how I did it, but I quieted this crowd in my head today. Last time I pitched in the playoffs here, I?d look in for the signs, and Ramon Hernandez?s fingers looked like they were shaking from sound waves bouncing around. But today my focus was so sharp, and it was like I just turned the volume down in my head. It was just me and Jason, pitch and catch. That, more than anything, was the key for me today. It?s not easy to block out 55,000 people, but I — we — did it somehow. Just an awesome day.