BOSTON -- Rookie right-hander Dana Kiecker almost gave up on his major-league dream last winter, but tonight he'll make his postseason debut for the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
In the off-season that followed his seventh year in he minor leagues, Kiecker drove a United Parcel Service ruck to make ends meet and pondered a future in some other profession. But on the advice of his wife, and with added encouragement from an unlikely source, he gave it one more try.
Oakland Athletics catcher Terry Steinbach provided that second opinion after spending the winter working out with Kiecker in their native Minnesota.
"He opened up time in his schedule for me," Kiecker said. "He's a catcher and I'm a pitcher. It was a friendship that turned into a working relationship."
Kiecker had turned in decent numbers in the minor leagues, but he had gone seven years without even getting a September call from the Red Sox. This year, he finally got his chance and pitched well enough to rate a starting assignment in the playoffs. But he wasn't far from getting out of the game.
"I wouldn't say quitting," he said. "I was thinking about retiring. I had been in the minors for 6 1/2 years and I wanted to show people I could pitch. But my wife was very supportive. She's my biggest fan and she thought I could pitch so I said, 'Let's do it.' I've been in the major leagues for one year and I want to stay here."
Kiecker will have to overcome some scary numbers at Fenway Park to defeat the defending World Champions. He made 17 starts at home this year and had a 3-5 record and a 6.50 ERA. On four occasions, he didn't get through the fourth inning.
"My rougher starts were against some pretty good opponents," he said. "I had one start against Toronto and one against Baltimore and they were seeing the ball well. I've found here at Fenway that the wall has actually saved me from giving up some home runs. I'm looking forward to starting tomorrow night's [tonight] game."
* Athletics manager Tony La Russa waited until yesterday to make a final decision on his Game 1 starting lineup, choosing utility player Mike Gallego to play second base over veteran Willie Randolph.
"It was a real tough call," La Russa said. "Sometimes, you just have to make a decision. You can't send two guys out there."
It was something of a tossup. Gallego is the superior defensive player, but never has been a major contributor with the bat. Randolph gives up a step in the field, but clearly is the better hitter.
"I don't like to put it that way, but one guy has an offensive edge and the other guy has a defensive edge," La Russa said. "That's not to say that Willie can't make the plays and Mike can't get a hit."
Gallego actually had the better offensive numbers against the Red Sox this year, though that isn't saying much. He batted .217 in 10 games. Randolph hit .188 in six games.