Because of a combination of squandered opportunities and curious managerial decisions, whichever team lost tonight’s series opener was going to have plenty of moments to regret. Until the bottom of the seventh, it seemed as if that team was going to be the Yankees.
The Yankees entered the seventh inning leading 3-2, but with two outs, the Twins advanced the tying run to second base for Joe Mauer. Naturally, that was Joe Girardi’s cue to bring in his designated lefty, Damaso Marte. With A.J. Burnett at 100 pitches, you could probably forgive Girardi for going with the lefty/lefty matchup, but that doesn’t mean Mauer’s game tying single to center was unexpected. An ill advised throw home by Brett Gardner allowed Mauer to advance to second base with the go-ahead run, and it was at that point Girardi made a serious blunder. Instead of walking the white-hot Justin Morneau and bringing in the more capable Joba Chamberlain to face Michael Cuddyer (who entered the game with a .671 OPS against righties), Girardi allowed Morneau to swing the bat, which is precisely what he did. Morneau promptly doubled into the right centerfield gap, plating Mauer and giving the Twins a 4-3 lead. Incredibly, Girardi then walked Cuddyer so Marte could remain in the game to face Jason Kubel. Marte eventually retired Kubel on a fly ball to left field, but the damage had already been done.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Francisco Cervelli led off with an infield single and then Derek Jeter followed with line drive off the leg of Twins starter Scott Baker that caromed into short right field for a double. Lefty Brian Duensing was then summoned to replace Baker, and he retired Gardner on a liner to shallow left. After having Duensing load the bases by intentionally walking Mark Teixeira, Ron Gardenhire decided to see Joe Girardi’s Damaso Marte and raise him a Matt Guerrier. In seven previous matchups against Guerrier, Arod had drawn a walk and recorded four hits, including three home runs. After two pitches, and several scratches of the head, Arod was making yet another trip around the bases against the Twins righty. The grand slam by Arod catapulted the Yankees into a 7-4 lead and erased any bad taste left over from the top of the inning.
Including Arod’s home run, the two through five hitters in the Yankee lineup were a combined 8-15 with five runs and seven RBIs. That level of production was sorely needed by the Yankees, who saw an already depleted lineup weakened further when Nick Swisher had to leave the game after one at bat. The soft underbelly of the batting order was on display in the bottom of the fourth inning when Randy Winn, who replaced Swisher, Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda all struck out with runners on second and third. The same trio of hitters also squandered a lead off double by Robinson Cano in the bottom of the sixth. In total, Winn, Thames and Miranda stranded 10 of 16 runners.
The Twins also had their share of missed of opportunities in the game. In the top of the second, the Twins loaded the bases on a hit, walk and error before AJ Burnett forced in a run by issuing a free pass to light hitting Nick Punto. In such circumstances, AJ Burnett has been known to implode, but this time he induced a 1-2-3 double play from Denard Span before striking out Orlando Hudson to retire the side.
Despite scoring eight runs, the extent to which injuries have taken a toll on the Yankees lineup has become evident. Winn, Thames and Miranda are simply not good enough to play every day, so as long as they remain in the lineup, the Yankees will need the middle of the order to come up big. Compounding the problem is Derek Jeter’s deepening slump. The Captain has continued to expand the strike zone and hit an inordinate number of ground balls, two trends that have caused his production to plummet over the past two weeks. Until Jeter snaps out of his funk, or the lineup is lengthened by Curtis Granderson’s and Nick Johnson’s return, Girardi is going to need to be more creative, both with how he constructs the lineup and conducts in-game strategy. In particular, the Yankees need to consider limiting the playing time of Winn and Thames by increasing the number of games in which Jorge Posada serves as the DH and Cervelli catches.
- Alex Rodriguez’ HR was the 587th of his career, pushing him past Frank Robinson for sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list.
- Arod’s grand slam was the 19th of his career, which ties Eddie Murray for third most all time. Only Lou Gehrig (23) and Manny Ramirez (21) have hit more.
- In a rare, but entirely justifiable move, the official scorer decided to give Joba Chamberlain the win despite Damaso Marte being the pitcher of record when the Yankees took the lead.
- After being removed from the game, Nick Swisher underwent an MRI on his right bicep. The results were negative and Swisher is once again listed as day-to-day.
- Derek Jeter is now 9 for 62 in May, and has seen his OPS drop from .866 to .717.