When asked what was working for Joe Mays in the opening game of the 2002 American League Championship Series, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire replied, “Take less time if I tell you what wasn’t working.”[fn]Postgame interview/press conference attended by the author, October 8, 2002.[/fn]
Over the last month and a half of the regular season, Mays had been alternating between good and bad in his starting assignments. Against the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series, Mays had been hit hard. Following the pattern, he then came back with an outstanding performance against the Anaheim Angels in the opener of the Championship Series, leading the Twins to a 2-1 victory at the Metrodome in Minnesota and the lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Joe certainly set the tone, getting the first out like he does,” Gardenhire said. We call that ‘halfway’ in Minnesota. You get the first out in an inning, I know there’s three, but we still call that halfway.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Mays, according to the Gardenhire math, found himself halfway through the inning after only one batter each inning as the Angels failed to get a leadoff man aboard the entire game. In the first Mays gave up a one-out single to Darin Erstad, who was wiped out on a double play, and he retired Anaheim in order in the second.
Minnesota got on the board in the bottom of the second when Torii Hunter doubled to right-center and went to third on a wild pitch. Hunter held as Doug Mientkiewicz fouled out to third baseman Troy Glaus and Michael Cuddyer walked, then came home with the first run of the game on A.J. Pierzynski’s fly to Erstad in center. Right-hander Kevin Appier struck out Luis Rivas, finishing the inning on his 41st pitch of the game, only 20 of which were strikes to that point.
The Angels mounted a two-out rally in the third, on singles by Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein, but looked as though they’d come up empty when Erstad hit a grounder to short. However, the ball went through the legs of Cristian Guzman, and Eckstein scored from second on the error. Over the next five innings, Mays allowed only a two-out single to Brad Fullmer in the fourth.
Appier wasn’t as sharp, although he kept the Angels in the game. “Ape worked for every out he got,“ said Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia after the game. “It seemed like he stepped up and made some pitches when things got hot.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn] A few of those pitches came in the fourth after David Ortiz led off with a single and, after a sacrifice by Hunter, Mienkiewicz walked. Appier got Cuddyer to fly out to right and Pierzynski to pop out to end the inning.
To start the fifth, however, Appier issued his third walk of the game, to Luis Rivas. After Jacque Jones flied out, Guzman lined a single to center and Corey Koskie followed with a line-drive double down the right-field line to score Rivas. “It was an offspeed pitch,” said Koskie. “I was trying to get something up in the zone because he’s pretty good when he gets the ball down.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Koskie’s double put runners at second and third with one out, but Appier escaped further damage by getting Ortiz to foul out to first baseman Scott Spiezio and striking out Hunter on a full count, getting him to chase a pitch in the dirt.
Appier, with 95 pitches through five innings, gave way to Brendan Donnelly, who pitched a perfect sixth and got the first two batters in the seventh before hitting Guzman with a pitch. Scott Schoeneweis – the lone lefty in the Angels’ bullpen – finished out the inning by getting Koskie to fly to right. Switch-hitter Bobby Kielty was sent up to hit for Ortiz to start the eighth, and Schoeneweis retired him on a fly to right. Ben Weber then came in and struck out Hunter and Mientkiewicz.
The Twins took their 2-1 lead into the ninth, and Gardenhire brought in Eddie Guardado to finish it off. Mays had delivered 99 pitches in what he called “the game of my career,” and had been asked how he was feeling by pitching coach Rick Anderson in the last of the eighth. “I said, ‘I feel great. I’ll go out there and close this out if you like me to. But Eddie’s been doing it all year, that’s his job.’ I gave him the option.
“It took me a little longer to loosen up in the eighth inning. That was the only reason I gave him that option. Otherwise, I would have told him I was ready to go back out there.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
It took Guardado 23 pitches to do it, but he closed the Angels out in the ninth. Guardado walked Tim Salmon with one out but then retired Garret Anderson on a fly to right and finished off an eight-pitch at-bat by getting Glaus to look at a third strike to end the game.