FORT MYERS, FLA. - Eddie Guardado was warming up in the right-field bullpen inside Oakland's Coliseum. A.J. Pierzynski blasted a two-run homer to give the underdog Twins a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning over the A's in a decisive Game 5 of a 2002 division series.

Joe Mays stretched and started throwing on the adjoining mound. Guardado glared and then said to bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek: "Sit him down."

Stelmaszek offered this explanation: "We need a starter for Tuesday. Joe has to get in his throwing."

Everyday Eddie was not impressed. "I don't care," he said. "Sit him down. This is my game."

Stelmaszek was recalling the scene Tuesday morning, as the Twins worked out on various fields before an exhibition against Baltimore.

"Eddie had that streak of machismo," Stelmaszek said. "He didn't want anyone to think Mays was warming up in case Eddie got in a mess. I finally gave Joe the 'go sit down' nod."

The '02 Twins scored another run to make it 5-1, and Guardado used them all. He gave up two singles, a double and a Mark Ellis home run before retiring Ray Durham on a sky-high pop to second for a 5-4 victory.

Guardado had 45 saves that season, when the Twins won a division for the first time in 11 years. He followed with 41 as the Twins won again in 2003.

On Tuesday, Stelmaszek was in a conversation on the candidates for filling Joe Nathan's closer role. As always, Everyday Eddie was mentioned as Exhibit A for those suggesting that fortitude can be the most important ingredient for ninth-inning success.

The Twins have a few more days to go along with the idea that Nathan might be able to pitch with a torn ligament in his right elbow. He has a throwing session planned for Saturday, and that should put an end to the charade.

Manager Ron Gardenhire could take his decision on Nathan's replacement to the Twins' final hours in Florida (April 1). Jon Rauch was favored in early speculation. Pat Neshek's return from elbow surgery has been impressive through four spring appearances. Francisco Liriano would bring an intimidation factor to save situations.

The guess here is Gardenhire's answer will be "none of the above" and give the first shot to Matt Guerrier.

"He's like Guardado -- so-so stuff but ..." a reporter said.

Stelmaszek interrupted, pointed to his stomach and said: "But he has it here. He won't give it up without a fight."

Just like Eddie?

"I don't know if he'd get as upset over another guy warming up, but, yeah, like Eddie," Stelmaszek said.

Guerrier, 31, spent five seasons in the minors with the White Sox and Pittsburgh. The Pirates dropped him from the big-league roster in November 2003. Terry Ryan, then the Twins general manager, put in a claim and called Guerrier.

"He said only a couple of clubs were interested, that I was running out of options -- that this might be my last chance," Guerrier said. "It was an eye-opener."

Guerrier bounced between Class AAA Rochester and the Twins in 2004. He was the long reliever in 2005 and 2006, then became Gardenhire's workman with an average of 76 appearances over the past three seasons.

There was a dreadful conclusion to the 2008 season, then last season's big rebound: 5-1, 2.36 ERA and a league-leading 79 appearances.

"Those last two months in '08 ... I made a lot of bad pitches, and when I made good pitches, my luck was bad," Guerrier said. "I kept hearing I was done.

"I thought about what went wrong every day and finally said, 'I'm not going to change. I'm going to pitch like I have for the past four, five years.' What I was doing then was right, and it was going to be right again."

There was enough right in 2009 that Gardenhire's problem if he went with Guerrier as his closer would be finding another reliever to give him 30 pitches every other day.

Asked about closing, Guerrier repeated the Twins' battle cry that no one has given up on Nathan, then said: "Long relief, middle relief, seventh and eighth inning ... maybe the ninth's the natural progression."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP •