You couldn’t blame someone if they thought the Yankees and Twins played their post season games from a script. After all, the last seven meetings between the teams in October, dating back to the 2004 ALDS, have all seemed to follow the same formula: the Twins take a lead only to see the Yankees comeback and win. Last night was no different.
Although the game started just after 8:30PM in New York, it took the October Yankees a little bit longer to show up. In their place, the same team that stumbled down the stretch in September seemed to take the field for the first five innings of the game. Included among a series of miscues were the following: C.C. Sabathia failing to cover first base on a groundout, which allowed Orlando Hudson to go from first to third when Mark Teixeira had to dive toward the bag to make the putout; Jorge Posada’s passed ball, which allowed a run to score; and Brett Gardner failing to take third base on a bobble by Delmon Young. Meanwhile, Sabathia, who may have been dealing with the rust of an eight-day lay off, struggled with his command, as evident in the second inning when the big lefty plunked Jim Thome on a two-strike count before giving up a homer to Michael Cuddyer on a 2-0 fastball right down the middle.
In fairness to the Yankees, part of their lethargic look was directly attributable to the performance of Francisco Liriano, whose electric slider made batter after batter look silly. The normally patient Yankees lineup was able to work the count, but just could not lay off the pitch, which would start out over the plate before darting out of the strike zone. Through 5 1/3 innings, Liriano had only allowed two hits and two walks while striking out six, making the Twins 3-0 lead look almost insurmountable. Almost.
In the post game press conference, Teixeira confidently stated that with a lineup like the Yankees, the team never feels as if all hope is lost. In the sixth inning, the Yankees first baseman helped put those words into action. Teixeira’s one out double into the left field corner not only seemed to snap the team out of its doldrums, but was also an important hit for the first baseman, whose 2009 post season left something to be desired. Following the double, Arod worked a tough six pitch walk after which Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada sandwiched a Marcus Thames strikeout with RBI singles that finally put the Yankees on the scoreboard.
With the lead now cut to 3-2, Curtis Granderson was next to face Liriano, against whom he had been hitting .182 entering the game. That statistic played into Ron Gardenhire’s decision to let his ace lefty face on more batter, but Granderson bucked the trend and hit a towering fly ball off the right centerfield wall for a two-run triple. Before the hit, you can bet more than a few Yankees fans were wondering something like “what would Damon or Matsui do in this situation”. By coming up with the big triple, Granderson put most of those doubts to bed early in his Yankees’ post season career, which could bode well for his performance going forward.
The Yankees didn’t have the lead for long. In the bottom of the sixth, Sabathia retired the first two batters, but then lost the plate, walking three batters around a Cuddyer double that was almost turned into an out by Brett Gardner, who made a full body dive to glove the ball, but then surrendered it upon hitting the ground. After walking Danny Valencia to force in the tying run, Sabathia did rebound to strike out JJ Hardy on a changeup, but the big lefty expressed his displeaure by slamming his glove in the dugout.
Last post season, Teixeira’s struggles were camouflaged by the historic performance of Arod, so getting his first baseman off on the right foot had to be high on Girardi’s list. And, that’s exactly what happened. Teixeira immediately vaulted the Yankees back into the lead with a two run blast that just stayed within the right field foul pole. Before the game, it was revealed that not only did Teixeira battle a broken toe in September, but he had also received a cortisone shot on his thumb. Judging by his performance in game 1, the slugging first baseman may finally be healthy at just the right time.
With a second crack at the lead, Girardi turned the game over to his bullpen, which had emerged as a relative strength of the team in the second half of the season. Boone Logan was first out of the pen, and he succeeded in retiring the first two batters in the seventh before giving way to David Robertson after a single by Joe Mauer. Robertson thwarted Girardi’s strategy by walking the right handed hitting Delmon Young, but then struck Jim Thome out on three outstanding curveballs.
The eighth inning went to Kerry Wood, who established himself in the role by pitching to an ERA of 0.69 since coming over at the trade deadline. Once the Twins put the tying run in scoring position (on a walk, infield single and groundout), however, Girardi went to his security blanket and called on Mariano Rivera for another big post season save, the 40th of his remarkable career.
In September, Rivera had struggled, blowing three saves during the month, but the Yankees’ legendary closer has owned October. After retiring Denard Span on a weak grounder to short, Rivera then coasted through the ninth, breaking the bats of Hudson and Mauer before retiring Delmon Young on a low liner to Greg Golson in right. Unfortunately, right field umpire Chris Guccione missed what everyone else saw and ruled that last play a trap. As a result, Thome was afforded another at bat as the tying run. Blown call aside, the Hall of Fame confrontation was the perfect way to end what was a tense ballgame. In his usual calm and collected fashion, however, Rivera defused the situation by inducing a harmless pop out to third on the very first pitch.
Although the Yankees “need” to win game 1 was overstated, the importance of taking the series opener can not be denied (since the Yankees lost the 2006 ALDS to the Tigers, every division series has been won by the team taking the first game). Not only does the victory snag the much talked about home field advantage that was such a point of contention, but it also gives Andy Pettitte a little bit of breathing room. Game two is next…hopefully the Twins stick to the script.
Mariano Rivera’s Post Season Performance
|15 ALDS||2||0||0.34||35||17||52 2/3||25||2||1||42||0.589|
|8 ALCS||4||0||0.99||30||12||45 2/3||31||5||0||33||0.832|
|7 WS||2||1||0.99||24||11||36 1/3||27||4||1||32||0.963|