FORT MYERS, FLA. _ The Twins trailed Detroit by three games with four to play in AL Central in 2009. The race could have ended on Oct. 1, but the Twins won 8-3 in Detroit. Two days later, it was tied, as the Twins won twice against Kansas City and the Tigers lost twice to the White Sox.
Both teams won on Sunday, setting up the epic Game 163 _ the last great ballgame in the Metrodome.
Scott Baker made that start. This put manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson in need of a starter for the first game of the division series at Yankee Stadium. The nominee was rookie Brian Duensing, who had nine starts and 15 relief appearances that season.
Duensing's numbers were better as a starter: 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA, compared to 0-1 with a 5.17 ERA as a reliever.
The rookie lefthander couldn't handle the Yankees that night _ lasting 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs and taking the loss.
The starter/reliever numbers have gone through quite a reversal since then. Duensing started the 2010 season in the bullpen, became the late-inning lefthander and was phenomenal. He was 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA in 39 appearances. Desperation set in and the Twins moved him to the rotation.
"I was pretty good as a starter that year,'' Duensing said.
He was right _ 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts.
Duensing had a total of 22 big-league starts in the regular season, but it was enough to put him in solid as a starter for the 2011 Twins. He looked good in April, and then things went to Hades. He couldn't get out righthanded hitters. He made 28 starts in 32 appearances, and finished with a season ERA of 5.23.
"I don't know what happened,'' Duensing said. "For two years, it seemed like when I started, I couldn't get the ball down.''
Duensing opened 2012 in the bullpen and the numbers were excellent: 1.71ERA in his first 19 appearances. Desperation to find starters was higher than ever, and Duensing was used for 11 starts from June 23 through Aug. 30. He tried to get it done throwing out of the stretch, which only made him look more overmatched.
He was 2-8 with a 6.92 ERA in those 11 starts and 2-4 with a 3.47 ERA in 44 relief appearances.
"All I know is Gardy and Rick Anderson have told me, 'Wherever we put you this time, that's where you're going to stay,' '' Duensing said Friday. "It looks like the bullpen, but I'm not sure. We don't have that many lefthanded starters.''
Actually, the Twins only have one, Scott Diamond, and he had his first bullpen session on Thursday after elbow cleanup surgery in December. If he can't go, will the Twins want to open the season without a lefty starter?
Duensing smiled and said: "That would be interesting. But I think Scott will be ready.''
Duensing pitched out of the stretch with no base runners on Wednesday. When the baseball maven, LV Neal, pointed this out on Twitter, Duensing saw Neal on Thursday and said: "Hey, I pitched out of the windup last time out. Get off my back.''
Duensing is big on self-deprecation, but he might prefer that the deprecation part comes from himself.
The odds are strong Duensing will be in the bullpen, even if Diamond isn't ready to open the season. The only lefty set for the bullpen is Glen Perkins, and he's going to be the closer. The other lefty relievers _ Pedro Hernandez, Tyler Robertson, Caleb Thielbar _ are more suspects than worthy contenders at this time.
With that in mind, Duensing was asked for a review of a bullpen that was OK last season, until the rotation got it running on fumes late in the summer because of overwork.
Perkins as the closer? "I love it,'' Duensing said. "Perk's got that quality ... that edge to him you see with closers.''
Jared Burton? "Laid-back country boy. The opposite personality of Perk. You never see him get worked up over things. That 'splange' of his is one of the best changeups I've ever seen.''
Casey Fien? "He's as wired as you get. It must be all that Red Bull. He drinks about five every day.''
Alex Burnett? "He's got his feet under him now ... more confidence. He's strong, heavy sinker, good stuff all around.''
The bullpen in general? "It's good. It should be a solid part of the team.''
A step toward that will be to stop messing with Duensing and just put him in the pen.