NEW YORK -- Carl Pavano has the weight of the Twins' future on his not-so-trusty right arm. With his club down, 0-2, in its best-of-five American League Division Series, he must best former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte at the Metrodome in Sunday's Game 3 at 6:07 p.m. CT on TBS or go home for the winter.
"My job tomorrow is to obviously go out there and put us in a position to win," Pavano said during his media session on Saturday at the Dome. "We fell short the last two games, and we are playing good baseball, so tomorrow -- there is no doubt about it -- is a must-win for our team."
For Pavano, who left New York for Cleveland as a free agent before this year after four injury-riddled seasons, pitching against his former mates is old news by now. Before he was traded to the Twins on Aug. 7, Pavano made two early-season starts against the Yankees, with the Indians splitting the games.
Though Pavano didn't earn a decision in either of those starts, he turned in strong outings in both. On April 19 in the Bronx, the righty limited the Bombers to one run on four hits over six innings. He struck out four and walked one, tossing an economical 89 pitches and leaving in line for the victory. The Tribe bullpen, however, couldn't hold his lead.
Facing the Yankees on May 31 in Cleveland, Pavano again exited his start with a chance at the win, tossing 7 1/3 frames of three-run ball. He scattered seven hits, striking out four and walking none.
"Pav was here for a long time," said Yanks shortstop and captain Derek Jeter this week. "I know he had a lot of people talking about him. The thing with Pavano is that he has great stuff. He just didn't pitch when he was here. He pitched well against us this year. His whole thing has always been his health. When he's healthy, he knows how to pitch."
After signing a four-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees in 2005, Pavano won only nine times in 26 starts. The impetus for signing Pavano was his World Series work with the Marlins against the Yankees in '03, when the right-hander made a start and a relief appearance, allowing one run and eight hits in nine innings. The Yanks lost that series in six games.
"I mean, it's tough," Pavano said. "It's definitely a black period in my career -- four years where I was kind of just treading water for awhile there. But obviously, with the way this year has gone, I have been able to go out there with sustained health and be successful. I got through the year, and everything has come full circle. I'm getting a start in the playoffs, I can't ask for much more than that."
This season, a healthy Pavano went 14-12, 5-4 with the Twins.
"He's been great for us, a veteran pitcher," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said before Friday's Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. "Coming over in August, we had a bunch of young guys who went to him. Having him sit and talk with even my young catcher, Jose Morales, has helped him out, as well as some of the young pitchers. Just the leadership you get from a guy who's been there and done it has been very, very important."
Pavano's Yankees ills ranged from shoulder tendinitis to back stiffness to Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery during the 2007 season, after he couldn't pitch at all in '06. It's no wonder that when Pavano was introduced along with the rest of the team before the Twins' 7-2 Game 1 loss, he was lustily booed by the crowd of 49,464.
Pavano was emblematic of a five-year Yankees era in which the player payroll of about $200 million a year produced not a single postseason series victory. Last year, the club missed the playoffs for the only time since the strike-shortened 1994 season.
"There are definitely guys over there that I am fond of who I enjoyed playing with, but that was a frustrating time," Pavano said. "There were a lot of good times, but there were a lot of frustrating times that always stand out a lot more. I am thankful I got another opportunity after that to get back to where I was before all the frustrating times."
Gardenhire was so chagrined by Pavano's Game 1 reception that he went over to him and gave him a hug.
"He got booed really bad," Gardenhire said. "I just told him he needed some love. He laughed and said, 'Thanks.'"
As the Twins surged to win the AL Central with 17 wins in their final 21 regular-season games, Pavano was a big contributor. Down the stretch, Pavano made seven starts and was 2-1 in his final three, winning at home against the Royals on the last day of the regular season. That 13-4 victory set up the one-game tiebreaker that the Twins won over the Tigers in 12 innings at the Dome on Tuesday.
"It's a big game," Gardenhire said. "[Pavano] has faced them when he was with Cleveland, so it's not like it's the first time. They come back as well as any team in the game. It's the playoffs and it's the Yankees, and I would say from here on out, it's a must-win situation."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.