MINNEAPOLIS - The commissioner of baseball stepped inside their house last night, basking in the postseason glow - or maybe it was the overhead lighting - and expressing his gratitude for their mere existence.
With their futures so uncertain only a few months ago, the Minnesota Twins have become hardened enough to deal with anything. They weren't sent to the major-league graveyard, they weren't too distracted to win their division, and they weren't about to let the Anaheim Angels take early command of the American League Championship Series.
Small market, big plans.
Joe Mays bounced back from a horrible outing in the Division Series to retire the last 13 batters he faced, and the Twins held on to win Game 1 of the ALCS, 2-1, before 55,562 at the Metrodome.
Corey Koskie drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, as the Twins improved to 13-2 in playoff games beneath their inflated roof. Mays, whose season has been defined by injury and disappointment, held the Angels to an unearned run over eight innings before closer Eddie Guardado got the last three outs.
"That's one of the best games we had pitched against us all year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Guardado got a called third strike on Troy Glaus to strand pinch runner Chone Figgins and keep the home-field advantage with the Twins.
"This is a pretty big win, but we've got to win three more games," Koskie said. "We can't put all our eggs in one basket."
At least they still have a basket.
Commissioner Bud Selig, who wasn't certain to attend the series after attempting to contract the Twins this spring, watched part of the game from owner Carl Pohlad's private box. He visited the press box during the second inning, standing near the back wall while revisiting a subject he'd rather avoid.
Reminded of his plans to eliminate two teams, Selig said, "It's over, it's done."
The fans here, waving their white hankies and screaming as if every pop-up was at their control, won't dismiss it as easily. Maybe it's best that Selig not mingle between innings.
Until yesterday, the Twins had no idea Selig would enter the building. They constructed steps that would allow him to reach the field without passing through the crowd. He spoke before the game with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
"He was very excited to be here, very excited about baseball here in Minnesota," Gardenhire said. "The biggest thing he did this year was they got a labor agreement. That gives Minnesota a chance. So it was really, honestly, nice for me to see him and meet him for the first time."
Selig said owners voted 30-0 to contract, "but that's for a later day or maybe a new generation to worry about."
As the Twins began to mount a threat, Selig added, "I'm grateful they're here. I'm grateful they have a team."
By the time Selig had finished, the Twins were completing their rally with a sacrifice fly by catcher A.J. Pierzynski for a 1-0 lead.
Koskie's one-out double in the fifth off Anaheim starter Kevin Appier broke a 1-1 tie. Luis Rivas led off with a walk and moved up one out later on a single by Cristian Guzman, who was trying to atone for an error that gave the Angels their only run.
Revisiting their past, the Twins invited two of the franchise's most celebrated pitchers, Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat, to participate in the opening ceremonies.
Then they trusted Mays with the ball.
Under more ideal circumstances, Mays wouldn't have started Game 1. But Gardenhire needed someone fresh coming off the Division Series.
Mays missed three months of the regular season with muscle and tendon inflammation in his right elbow. In his only postseason start, he gave up six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in the Twins' 9-1 loss to Oakland.
He lost a 1-0 lead in the third inning last night, with a two-out error by Guzman allowing Adam Kennedy to score. Kennedy and David Eckstein singled with two outs, and Darin Erstad sent a four-hopper toward Guzman, who waited on the ball before it glanced off the tip of his glove and rolled through his legs.
Mays retired 16 of the last 17 batters after Guzman's error.
"I think they had a fairly good approach against him," Pierzynski said. "They tried to go the other way, especially their lefties, but Joe kept the ball down."
"I put everything behind me," said Mays, who allowed four hits and didn't walk a batter. "I went down there and pitched a game that I felt was the game of my career. I was ready to go out there. If he wanted me in Game 1 or Game 5, I was prepared for whatever job [Gardenhire] wanted me to do."
Guardado made his own recovery last night. After allowing a three-run homer to Oakland's Mark Ellis in the ninth inning to tighten Game 5 of the Division Series, he survived a one-out walk to Tim Salmon and recorded the save.
"In Oakland the first couple games, I think we were all kind of nervous," said center fielder Torii Hunter, who had one of Minnesota's five hits. "Now, we've got the feeling and the intensity and all the hype of the playoffs, and we're ready to play. I'm sure the Angels are, too, but we feel good."
Minnesota vs. Anaheim(Best of seven; *-if necessary)
TV:Chs. 45, 5 except as noted
Twins lead series 1-0
Last night:Minnesota, 2-1
Today: Anaheim (Ortiz 15-9) at Minnesota (Reed 15-7), 8:19 p.m. (CSN)
Friday:at Ana., 8:19 p.m.
Saturday:at Ana., 7:50 p.m.
*Sunday:at Ana., 4:50 p.m.
*Tuesday:at Minn., 8:20 p.m.
*Oct. 16:at Minn., 8:20 p.m.
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