Barring a moderately unlikely post-season matchup against the Twins, the Yankees will play their last game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome this afternoon. The first came back on May 28, 1982, when Ron Guidry matched up against a similarly diminutive and mustachioed righty named Bobby Castillo.
Giving early credence to the new stadium’s “Homer Dome” nickname, the two starters combined to give up seven home runs as the lead changed hands four times in the first six innings. Rookie third baseman Gary Gaetti, future Yankee Gary Ward, and rookie right-fielder Tom Brunansky (twice) all connected for solo shots off Gator. Lou Piniella, Oscar Gamble, and Roy Smalley, who had been acquired from Minnesota for reliever Ron Davis and shortstop Greg Gagne that April, went deep off Castillo.
With the game knotted at 4-4, Gaetti led off the top of the seventh with a double, prompting Yankee manager Gene Michael to go to his bullpen. George Frazier, the 1981 World Series goat, retired the next three batters, stranding Gaetti, after which the Yankees pushed across a fifth run in the top of the eighth on an Oscar Gamble triple that bounced Castillo and a two-out RBI single by Bobby Murcer.
With a 5-4 lead, Michael went straight to Goose Gossage in the eighth, but Goose blew the save, starting with a lead-off walk to Larry Milbourne, who had been traded from the Yankees to the Twins earlier that month in the deal that netted catcher Butch Wynegar. Milbourne was singled to third by Brunansky and scored on a sac fly by pinch-hitter Randy Johnson (not that one, or even the other one, this one).
In the ninth, Twins skipper Billy Gardner turned to Gossage’s former set-up man, Ron Davis, who came over in the Smalley trade the previous month. With one out, Willie Randolph and Dave Collins singled. Randolph then stole third and scored on Gamble’s subsequent single. After getting John Mayberry to fly out for the second out, Davis walked Bobby Murcer to load the bases, then gave up a back-breaking grand slam to Graig Nettles.
Given a reprieve, Gossage retired Gaetti, Ward, and Tim Laudner in order in the bottom of the ninth, punctuating a wild game with a strikeout of Laudner to give the Yankees a 10-5 win.
The loss ran the last-place Twins’ losing streak to nine games, which explained why just 18,854 showed up to see the Yankees’ first visit to the new building. Despite all that scoring, the game took just 2 hours and 29 minutes to play.
That was the first game the Yankees played in the Metrodome. The most significant were the four playoff games they won in the dome in 2003 and 2004:
2003 ALDS: After splitting the first two games in the Bronx, the Yankees win Games 3 and 4 at the Metrodome to defeat the Twins in the series. The combined score of the two games in the dome is 11-2. Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui, and Nick Johnson all double off Johan Santana in the fourth inning of Game 4 as the Yankees score six runs and bounce Santana from the game.
2004 ALDS: Repeating the previous year’s pattern exactly, the Yankees win Games 3 and 4 at the Metrodome to defeat the Twins in the series. The Yankees enter the top of the eighth down 5-1, then score four runs to tie the game, the key hit being a game-tying three-run home run by Ruben Sierra off Juan Rincon. The game goes into the 11th inning, when Alex Rodriguez doubles, steals third, then scores on a wild pitch with what proves to be the winning run of the series.
Today, the Yankees send spot-starter Alfredo Aceves to the mound against lefty Francisco Liriano. Liriano, who made the All-Star game as a rookie in 2006 then missed all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery, came on strong at the end of last year, but got off to a rocky start this year, going 2-7 with a 6.60 ERA through the end of May. Since then, however, he has turned in four quality starts in six tries, and the Twins have gone 5-1 in his starts. Over those six starts, Liriano has struck out a man per inning and posted a 3.79 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, not quite the performance of a pitcher who was supposed to replace Johan Santana as the team’s left-handed ace, but just fine from a 25-year-old lefty once again moving in the right direction.
This will be Liriano’s second start against the Yankees this season. In his first, he walked six Yankees in six innings, but only allowed one run, on a Derek Jeter solo homer. The Yankees ultimately won that game via a three-run ninth-inning rally against Joe Nathan capped off by a walk-off single by Melky Cabrera.
Aceves is making his first start since being called up–he went 2-0 with a 3.80 ERA in four starts for Scranton in April–and will be limited to 60 pitches. He has averaged 14.4 pitches per inning in his 21 relief appearances, so don’t expect him to last much past the fourth inning. That could mean lesser relievers such as Jonathan Albaladejo, Brett Tomko, and the struggling Brian Bruney could yet play an important part in this game, which might render Aceves’s performace moot if Liriano is on is game.
Fortunately, the Yankees have already won the series, and have gone 6-0 against the Twins on the season. If they finish the season series 6-1, I won’t be complaining.