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Big Apple, big test

Santana on the mound in opener

By Tara Sullivan

The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

NEW YORK -- Cap pulled low toward his dark, serious eyes, Johan Santana sat in Yankee Stadium on Monday afternoon and did his best impression of a cool veteran not worried about his impending task.

The Twins' most dangerous weapon wouldn't bait the Yankees by vowing he could beat them. But neither did the 25-year-old left-hander give any ground to the powerful lineup he will face in the Bronx tonight in the first game of the American League Division Series.

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"All I know is that they will have to go out with the best because I'm going to give it my best," Santana said. "That's all I know and that's the way I am. I'm pretty confident about the things that I can do."

And what Santana can do could present major obstacles to the Yankees' intention of winning a World Series for the first time since 2000. With a 95-mph fastball and a change-up that's just as hard and nearly impossible to pick up, Santana turned in not only what should be a Cy Young season, but one of the best second halves of the season on record. The rematch of last year's ALDS suddenly has a new sheriff.

"He's nasty," teammate Torii Hunter said. "I'm telling you now, the guy can pitch. I also know these guys can hit, but we think this year can be different. We finally have a dominant pitcher we feel we can go out and win every day."

On July 11, Santana was 7-6 with a 3.78 ERA. He would not lose again the rest of the season, winning his next 13 decisions by surrendering no more than two runs in any game but one, a three-run aberration to the A's. He beat the Yankees on Aug. 18 with a seven-inning, two-run outing, and pitched five innings of one-run ball before being lifted to rest his arm last week at Yankee Stadium.

Santana was third in the majors and tops in the AL with a 2.61 ERA, and in 228 innings struck out 265 batters and gave up just 156 hits.

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