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Continued: Success of trip could depend on Guerrier

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 19, 2008 - 6:05 AM

The Twins will play an afternoon game in the Metrodome on Wednesday, pack their bags, head for the airport and not be back in the Twin Cities until the early morning hours of Sept. 5.

They will fly an estimated 6,234 miles to Anaheim, Seattle, Oakland, Toronto and back to the Twin Cities. They will be on the road for 15 nights and play 14 games.

This will be the longest road trip since 1969, when the Twins were gone for 17 days and played 15 games. It was a five-city trip East that started in Detroit.

And manager Billy Martin and pitcher Dave Boswell made it memorable.

On the third night in Detroit, they engaged in drunken fisticuffs in the alley behind the Lindell AC. Boswell wound up with 20 stitches, and a Twins' team that was perhaps the best in franchise history went 6-9 on the journey.

"The Twins sent Boswell back to Minnesota and we didn't see him for 10-12 days,'' Tony Oliva said. "His face still was black and blue.''

It is unlikely that Ron Gardenhire, the current manager, will get in a similar ruckus with a hurler, no matter how much additional angst he's faced with over the condition of his bullpen.

There's no one more important to that bullpen -- and a road trip that permits survival in the American League Central race -- than Matt Guerrier.

A year ago, Guerrier was the Twins' most durable reliever with 73 games and 88 innings. He also rivaled closer Joe Nathan in reliability, putting up a 2.35 ERA that was second only to Nathan's 1.88 in the bullpen.

Guerrier would on occasion take the eighth-inning duties from Pat Neshek in tight games. This Twins' bullpen lost Neshek in early May because of a partial tear of an elbow ligament.

Initially, Gardenhire tried Jesse Crain and/or Dennys Reyes in most of the situations where the Twins were trying to hold a narrow lead in the eighth inning. In early June, Guerrier stopped the Yankees for five outs before a Nathan save, and Gardenhire started to go mostly with him in setup situations.

There were a couple of blips, but Guerrier -- with this greater responsibility -- was close to his 2007 pace in workload and effectiveness.

That started to change July 31, when he gave up two runs in the eighth and temporarily turned a victory over the White Sox into an adventure.

Starting then, Guerrier has been in nine games. He has given up 14 earned runs in 61/3 innings for an ERA of 19.90. He also has allowed 17 hits, including four home runs.

The Twins decided Guerrier was worn down by his workload and gave him a four-game break. He returned to start Sunday's eighth, faced four hitters, retired one and again the Twins were required to hold on for an adventurous victory.

"I've been hearing that I'm overworked, but I haven't felt that way ... not at all,'' Guerrier said before Monday's series opener against Oakland. "To say I was overworked, that would be an excuse that's not at all legitimate.

"I had a rough stretch last year -- not as long as this one, maybe -- but I got through it. And I'm confident I'll get through this. We're looking at a road trip that's going to be a big challenge, and I want to get back to being a good pitcher for this team again.''

Gardenhire said it's simple with the challenges that lie ahead for his bullpen over the next 2 1/2 weeks.

"Matt has to do it for us,'' the manager said. "He has to.''

There are three basic options -- Guerrier, Crain and Reyes -- to get the Twins from the starter to Nathan in close games. The formula doesn't have a chance of working without Guerrier as an out-getting workhorse.

"I've been going over everything, looking at tapes, trying to find the problem,'' he said. "When I do make good pitches, they still get hit, so there's obviously something wrong.''

Guerrier's pitching problem started at the same time that he and his wife, Dejie, brought home Ava Grace, an adopted infant daughter.

"I don't think I can blame her,'' he said. "Actually, it's been great to be able to come home and spend time with Ava after some of the games I've had lately.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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