After struggling with Yankees, Pavano found new life with Twins
MINNEAPOLIS — The New York Yankees will work out after the Twins at Target Field on Tuesday, meaning everyone in the New York traveling party will get a chance to make a joke about Carl Pavano.
The real joke is on the Yankees, and it goes something like this: When Pavano wore pinstripes, he was acting as a small-market spy.
Don't believe me? Check out his career, and his life story.
He was born in New Britain, Conn., home of the Twins' Class AA team. He was drafted by the big-market Red Sox but never pitched for them.
He did pitch for the Montreal Expos, who, like the Twins, were threatened by contraction.
After he was traded to the Florida Marlins, Pavano helped them win a World Series over the Yankees, prompting the ultimate small-market celebration — Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria running the Yankee Stadium bases at midnight, carrying champagne.
Then came Pavano's master stroke. To lure the Yankees, he produced his best season in 2004, going 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA before hitting free agency. Suddenly, Pavano was qualified to become a small-market Mata Hari.
The Yankees signed Pavano to a four-year deal worth $39.5 million, which, quaintly enough, was considered a lot of money at the time.
You've heard of the Iron Horse? Pavano was the Trojan Horse. In four seasons with the Yankees, he won nine games over 26 starts and became a target for teammates and writers alike.
The Sultan of Sabotage's years in the Bronx could have been considered a slump, or a product of inevitable injuries, but then Pavano, upon leaving the Yankees, displayed his true loyalties.
He won nine games in 21 starts for the awful 2009 Indians, who traded him to the Twins, whom he helped complete a miracle comeback that won the 2009 AL Central.
How about that for a guy the New York Post labeled "American Idle"? In less than a season-and-a-half with the Twins, Pavano became a key player on two division champions.
After signing a one-year contract for a sensible $7 million this winter, Pavano, 34, became the Twins' spiritual ace. While Francisco Liriano is the more dominating pitcher, Pavano is the one who leads young pitchers, who gathers the team for barbecues, who (Yankees fans are going spit up their pastrami after hearing this) wants the ball in the biggest games.
"Carl really is a leader for us," pitcher Brian Duensing said. "He's the guy who is always trying to get us together to socialize, who organizes the team events."
Pavano couldn't be more different as a Twin than he was as a Yankee.
When he grew an outlandish mustache this season, he became celebrated for his panache (if you liked it) or his sense of humor (if you didn't).
If he had grown the same mustache while playing for the Yankees, he would have been accused of wearing a disguise so cabbies wouldn't yell at him in public.
Pavano isn't going to open a vein when it comes to his time in the Bronx. Asked on Sunday whether this series held extra meaning for him, Pavano said: "Nope. I'm with the Twins. My job is to go out there and be successful, go out there and do my job."
If he wasn't a small-market mole, what would be the explanation for Pavano's resurgence?
Health? Yes. Pavano angered some Yankees teammates by appearing cavalier about making big money while sitting on the disabled list, and he hid a rib injury suffered in a car accident while he was on a rehab assignment. In Minnesota, he has been determined to pitch even when less than 100 percent.
Scrutiny? Perhaps. A highly paid free agent in New York better produce or face searing Post headlines.
Newfound maturity? Probably. The people who ridiculed Pavano in New York weren't wrong; Pavano simply acts like a different human today.
Or maybe he had the same motivation all along — to be a one-man campaign for baseball parity.
If Pavano can beat the Yankees, there will be more proof that Pavano was the ideal small-market mole.