10/03/2003 8:08 PM ET
Lohse hopes gift is win
Pitcher's birthday would be complete with victory
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kyle Lohse spent his childhood idolizing power pitchers like Roger Clemens. But he also spent last October craving a chance to start a playoff game.
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
On Saturday, he receives one heck of a 25th birthday present, starting Game 3 of the American League Division Series opposite the Rocket. But to those who have seen him start after start for two years, it's something that was earned, not given.
"Last year was a tough situation for me," Lohse said, "knowing that I'd only come in in blowouts. This year, it means a lot to be looked upon as being able to pitch that third game. In a second full season, to be able to go in there and get that responsibility put on you, it means a lot."
It means plenty about how far Lohse has come in his sophomore campaign. Statistically, he backed up many of his 2002 achievements and helped establish his name with 14 wins. But beyond the numbers, he showed much of the maturity needed to take over a critical role in the Twins' present, let alone future.
He entered mid-June with three straight quality starts of at least eight innings. In the next six starts into the All-Star break, he never lasted more than five innings. To make matters worse, he never surrendered fewer runs than innings pitched in any of those outings.
He tried to overthrow, and his pitches flattened out. He went 0-4, and the Twins lost all six games.
"I think it's more his location," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Maybe he went through a tired part with a lot of innings. Mechanically, he was rushing a little bit, missing his spots, and not using all of his pitches as well.
"He's got a great arm, and his ball can do a lot of things when he pitches. When he starts trying to overthrow the ball, he gets into a little bit of trouble."
Much like the Twins came out of the break a changed team, Lohse emerged in the second half with the same form that fueled his breakout season in 2002. He took some velocity off his fastball and regained some movement, while his teammates' offensive support allowed him to leave with a lead in all but two starts over the second half.
By hitting a career best in wins, Lohse earned something he couldn't last year despite a 13-8 record -- a postseason start. He pitched five scoreless innings of relief over the Twins' entire October run last year. Now, he'll go in front of a packed Metrodome awash in homer hankies.
"Lohse is a guy that didn't get to pitch in the postseason last year a whole lot," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He was disappointed, very disappointed. And now he comes in and gets to start against Roger Clemens and in the Metrodome, in the playoffs ... and he's going to be a little excited. We all are going to be."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.