Thursday, September 25, 2008

Twins season may be salvaged courtesy of 22-year old.

With the Twins now a ½ game out of first place, the focus has shifted to postseason possibilities. Personally, I am stunned that it has gotten to this point. Just three short weeks ago I had written off the Twins after another bullpen meltdown. In the midst of what was a 14-game road swing, the Twins inexplicably blew their fourth game in which they had a lead in the seventh inning or later.

But in a remarkable turn of events that has the Twins on the brink of their fifth division title in seven seasons, could it be they have found a late-inning pitching savior? If so, stout left-hander Jose Mijares earned his way in last night’s victory.

By (the seventh inning), White Sox starter Mark Buehrle was in cruise mode and the Twins had only a one-run lead to protect in the eighth.

Gardenhire went to Mijares, 23, a surprising September callup. He had a limited minor-league season after breaking his left elbow in a car accident this winter.

Mijares had pitched the eighth in a victory for the first time Sunday. This was a one-run lead, a crowd announced at 42,126 was screaming and the White Sox were bringing up Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Ken Griffey Jr. and their combined 1,345 home runs.

Mijares opened with three balls to Thome. What were the young man's thoughts?

"He says, 'I knew I had to throw strikes,'" said (Dennys) Reyes, interpreting for the Venezuelan.

Mijares came back to get Thome on a sky-high fly to center. Konerko and Griffey went out easier.

Could Mijares have imagined -- as he was recovering from his accident -- pitching in a big-league division race?

"Not at all,'' he said through Reyes. "He says, 'I just wanted to be able to come back and pitch again this season.'"

After seven relief appearances (covering seven innings), Mijares has allowed only two hits and has an ERA of 1.29. Since making his big league debut on September 13, he has impressed the organization so much that I believe he has more than a fighting chance to be part of the Twins possible postseason run.

This stretch of games by Mijares reminds me of the brief impression his fellow countryman made in 2002 with the LA Angels of Anaheim. A 20-year old phenom made his major league on debut on September 18th that season. In only 5 2/3 innings pitched, the young man struck out thirteen batters while giving up zero runs. Those five relief appearances so impressed the Angels that they made the youthful right-hander the setup man for then closer Troy Percival. It was that season that Francisco Rodriguez played a key role in the Angels winning their first ever World Series title. In eleven postseason appearances, he sported a 1.92 ERA. Rodriguez, now the Angels closer, has set a single-season record for saves with 62 thus far this season.

Like Rodriguez in '02, Mijares appears too young to know he’s not supposed to succeed in pressure situations. Here’s hoping the Twins lefty remains blissfully ignorant.


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