And if these "never-say-die" Twins enter the eighth or ninth inning holding a one- or two-run lead at the Metrodome on Sunday night, with continuing the series vs. offseason vacation plans in the balance, then Minnesota won't hesitate to call upon Nathan. The All-Star closer couldn't convert in the ninth on Friday against the Yankees, but one blown save does not make for a true Twins worry.
"He is as sure a shot as they come," said Carl Pavano, Minnesota's Game 3 starter. "I mean, Joe Nathan led the league in saves this year, and he had a bad day. But he is ready to step up again."
"Yeah, we feel pretty good giving Nathan the ball in those situations," said Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer. "He's a professional and one of the best in the game. He'll put that behind him, and if we need him tomorrow, he'll come out and do a great job."
Contrary to Pavano's assessment, Nathan's 47 saves actually put him second behind the Angels' Brian Fuentes, who had 48, in both the AL and all of baseball. Nathan produced a 2.10 ERA over 70 games, giving up just 42 hits and 22 walks in 68 2/3 innings. Factor in his two hit batsmen, and Nathan gave up less than one baserunner per inning, while fanning 89.
There's certainly fallibility to Nathan's work, like any other top-notch closer. He blew five saves, and in one game against the White Sox, on Sept. 2 at home, the righty retired the first two hitters of the ninth without a hitch in protecting a two-run lead but then gave up back-to-back home runs to Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko, yielding four runs and the lead before departing.
From that point until Friday night, Nathan had allowed a mere two runs in 15 2/3 innings, converting 12 consecutive saves. So watching the blown save in the matter of eight pitches, resulting in Mark Teixeira's single and Alex Rodriguez's game-tying home run, was downright stunning for a pitcher who permitted seven home runs all season.
NATHAN'S POSTSEASON STRUGGLES
|Joe Nathan has two losses and one save in seven playoff games|
|'03 NLDS Gm 2||SF||FLA||1/3||4||3||0||1||1||L||L 9-5|
|'03 NLDS Gm 3||SF||FLA||0||0||0||1||0||0||ND||L 4-3|
|'04 ALDS Gm 1||MIN||NYY||1||0||0||0||0||0||S||W 2-0|
|'04 ALDS Gm 2||MIN||NYY||2 1/3||1||2||4||3||0||L||L 7-6|
|'04 ALDS Gm 4||MIN||NYY||1 2/3||1||0||1||3||0||ND||L 6-5|
|'06 ALDS Gm 2||MIN||OAK||2/3||1||0||0||1||0||ND||L 5-2|
|'09 ALDS Gm 2||MIN||NYY||1 1/3||3||2||1||0||1||BS||L 4-3|
|Totals||7 1/3||10||7||7||8||2||0-2, 1 S|
"It is [stunning]," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "When Joe is in the game, that's normally, 'Katie, bar the door,' as they say."
Of course, Nathan wasn't exactly facing Little Leaguers learning their craft in the fateful ninth inning. In Teixeira and Rodriguez, Nathan tangled with a pair of perennial Most Valuable Player candidates who had gone a combined 10-for-19 with one home and seven RBIs against him in their careers.
According to Mauer, Nathan missed a little bit with his location -- a fact that especially rang true when Rodriguez launched his 3-1 offering into the Twins' bullpen beyond the wall in right-center field. Nathan walked slowly from the mound after he was removed from the game with the winning run on third and one out in the 10th, maybe thinking about what might have been.
One of Nathan's best traits, however, is his short memory. After the brutally tough setback, Nathan stood in front of his locker and calmly waited for all of the media to gather so he wouldn't have to do the same interview four or five times. He then proceeded to talk about what went wrong for 10 minutes.
If Nathan is called upon Sunday, he expressed the utmost confidence in being able to get the job done against the Yankees. The same holds true for the feelings of his teammates.
"We have always said, when it doesn't work out, that's one of those really tough ones, because he is so good and sets the table so high," Gardenhire said. "But when we put Joe in the ballgame, I feel pretty doggone good."