Duensing steps into ALDS limelight

Duensing steps into ALDS limelight

MINNEAPOLIS -- Brian Duensing was told to lace up his spikes before the 10th inning of Tuesday night's American League Central one-game tiebreaker against the Tigers at the Metrodome.

Due to the way he used his pitching staff in the contest, manager Ron Gardenhire wasn't sure whether he might need to turn to the left-hander.

The Twins somehow found a way to get through their thrilling, 6-5 win in 12 innings without Duensing, leaving him in line to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees on Wednesday night at 5:07 CT on TBS.

"It's going to be real exciting," Duensing said. "I'm sure I'll be nervous, but I'll try to keep those emotions in check, obviously. It's a really good team. It's going to be a battle."

Division Series
Gm. 1NYY 7, MIN 2WrapVideo
Gm. 2NYY 4, MIN 3 (11)WrapVideo
Gm. 3NYY 4, MIN 1WrapVideo

Duensing, 26, has pitched on a big stage before, even if it wasn't exactly the one that the Twins rookie left-hander will be on when he takes the mound on Wednesday evening at Yankee Stadium.

It was just last summer when Duensing was selected to the U.S. Olympic team and pitched in relief in Beijing, winning a gold medal. But the southpaw wasn't sure how much that Olympic experience might help him in the charged atmosphere of Yankee Stadium.

"I've never been in this type of playoff game, especially against this type of team that we would be facing," Duensing said. "I'm sure it will help somehow. I don't know how. Once I play, we'll see."

Duensing has been poised since joining the rotation full-time in mid-August after injuries depleted Minnesota's starting staff, which is a good sign for the Twins.

"I've talked to him about the things that he's going to face, about the media," said Twins veteran starter Carl Pavano, who was a member of the Yankees for four years. "You've met this young man. I'm not worried about him between the lines. I told him things that I had a tough time with that were a big surprise to me, dealing with the media, the press conferences before your start, after your start, win or lose.

"Between the lines, I'm not worried about that young man. He's got the makeup to do what he has to do. I seriously think he's going to handle everything great. I can't wait to see him out there."

In his first six starts in the rotation, Duensing posted a 4-0 record with a 1.45 ERA. He pitched into the seventh inning in four of those starts, with all of them coming at the Metrodome.

Duensing wasn't with the Twins when they made their only trip to Yankee Stadium in May. Yet he has faced the Yankees once -- in relief -- and allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings on July 7.

Having already matched up against the potent Bombers lineup, Duensing knows that he faces a stiff challenge ahead of him. But his goal is not to treat it differently than any other start he's made recently.

"It's still the same game, just a bigger stage," Duensing said. "There's more riding on it. It's just one of those things that I don't know if I can prepare for without ever being a part of it."

One goal that Duensing has in mind for Tuesday is to try to pitch deep into the contest -- something that he's been unable to do in any of his starts on the road. He's pitched into the sixth only once in four road starts. But considering how the Twins used nearly every member of their bullpen in Tuesday's tiebreaker, Duensing feels it's critical to pick his team up.

"I feel like I have to really go deep into the game," Duensing said. "Whether we win or lose, I feel like that should help us throughout the rest of the series."

Getting the ball on the big stage is something that Duensing is looking forward to -- calling it an unbelievable experienced to have -- but the spotlight of such a task is not something that Duensing is accustomed to having on him.

In recent weeks, when he continued on a roll for the Twins in the rotation, Duensing began getting more media requests and saw his name being mentioned on SportsCenter and other sports highlight shows. It was a little strange for him, to say the least.

"I've always been an under-the-radar guy, whether it was behind [Kevin] Slowey or [Glen] Perkins, I got used to that," Duensing said. "I like it that nobody really knows who I am. I'm not some big-name guy. It's kind of weird to see what's going on."

It's been that way throughout Duensing's Twins career until this year. But it was also the same thing during his time at the University of Nebraska when he had Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain and Royals third baseman Alex Gordon as teammates.

Still, now seems the time when Duensing is ready to shine in that key role. Even if the youngster admits that he's a little in awe of where he's at right now.

"I was just trying to give a good showing and hopefully be a September callup," said Duensing of his time with the club after making the team right out of Spring Training. "I wasn't even thinking I'd break camp with them. Then being called up as soon as I was in July and being able to help the team win and help out a little bit has been more than I expected."

The Twins can now only hope that Duensing's amazing ride can keep going, ensuring that the club's improbable run over the past few weeks can continue as well.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.