Twins' no-name bullpen playing a starring role

Al Notebook

September 03, 2006|By Compiled from interviews and other newspapers' reports.

The Minnesota Twins have pitchers Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano and hitters Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau all in the hunt for postseason awards.

Yet the primary reason the Twins have turned around their season, are in the American League wild-card race and are a legitimate World Series threat has more to do with no-names.

Through 131 games, the Twins' bullpen was 21-7 with a 2.95 ERA, the only club in the majors with a bullpen ERA under 3.00. Their relievers had walked a major league-low 104 batters in 399 innings pitched. Five teams' bullpens - the Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals - had walked over 200 batters heading into Friday night.

But few outside of Minneapolis could name the pitchers who make up the Twins relief corps, with the exception of Joe Nathan, one of baseball's best closers.

"It's historical in the game," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "You know all the starters and the closer. On most pitching staffs in the major leagues, you'll know six guys, the five starters and the guy who has the ball at the end of the game. And the other five or six you are like, `Let me think.' "

For the record, here are the other guys (and their records/ERAs coming into the weekend series at Yankee Stadium): Rookie right-hander Pat Neshek (3-0, 1.05), left-hander Dennys Reyes (4-0, 0.89), right-hander Juan Rincon (3-1, 2.61), right-hander Matt Guerrier (0-0, 2.72), right-hander Jesse Crain (3-5, 4.10) and rookie right-hander Willie Eyre (1-0, 5.54), who allowed just three earned runs in 17 1/3 innings in August.

Rincon is the most recognizable name, but that's partially because he was the most accomplished major leaguer to fail a steroid test before Rafael Palmeiro. Rincon and his fellow relievers say they don't care about recognition. Just give them the ball.

"We have no problem being underrated," Rincon said. "We don't get paid for how [highly] rated you get. Our main job is to get people out, not to make news or headlines. Here in the clubhouse, people know how important our bullpen is."

Unpopular Pavano

After it was revealed that free-agent bust Carl Pavano's return to the New York Yankees again would be delayed - this time because he had suffered broken ribs in a car accident and failed to inform the club promptly - his locker was papered by players with New York tabloid back pages. One headline called Pavano "Crash Test Dummy."

"Stuff like this, hiding injuries, that costs you respect and credibility," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "He's got a mountain to climb to get back in the fold, and that's on him."

Tough crowd

Since the Toronto Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series in 1993, they haven't finished above third in the AL East or ahead of the Yankees or Boston Red Sox. During that time, the Jays have placed third eight times, fourth once and fifth three times. They are in third again this season.

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