I don’t even know where to start. The Yankees beat the Twins 4-3 in 11 innings in Game Two of the ALDS on Friday night in the Bronx in what might have been the most exciting Yankee postseason win since the Aaron Boone game in 2003.
Starting pitchers A.J. Burnett and Nick Blackburn matched zeros for five innings. Blackburn allowed only a walk to Hideki Matsui before Robinson Cano, who along with Mark Teixeira was one of just two Yankee starters who went hitless in Game One, singled with two outs in the fifth. Burnett put runners on in every inning, but stranded them in the first five.
The first big play of the game came in the top of the fourth. After getting two quick outs, Burnett hit Delmon Young in the back and Carlos Gomez in the hand to put runners on first and second. Matt Tolbert then lined a clean single to shallow right center for what looked like the first RBI hit of the game, but Gomez took a wide turn around second then slipped. With Derek Jeter standing on second screaming for the ball, Nick Swisher fired to second to catch Gomez off the bag just moments before Young was able to cross home, ending the inning without a run scoring.
The Twins finally broke the scoreless tie in the top of the sixth after Young drew a one-out walk and stole second as Gomez struck out. Tolbert was due up, but had come down with a strained oblique, forcing Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to pinch-hit with Brendan Harris. Harris, who hit .238/.289/.340 against right-handers on the season, took to 3-1, then launched a bomb to the left-field gap. Johnny Damon did his jump-and-fall-down routine in a hopeless attempt to catch the ball, and the ball ricocheted off the wall and got past Melky Cabrera giving Harris an RBI triple. Burnett stranded Harris by getting Nick Punto to ground out on what proved to be his last pitch of the night. Then the Yankees answered back.
With Burnett out of the game, Joe Girardi sent Jorge Posada up to hit for Jose Molina. Posada flew out, but Derek Jeter crushed a ground-rule double to right center, and two batters later the new Alex Rodriguez delivered yet another two-out RBI single to tie the game.
Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke split a scoreless seventh. John Rauch answered with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. That passed the ball to Phil Hughes in the eighth. Taking his cue from Burnett, Hughes got two quick outs and had the crowd roaring “Huuuughes” with the count 1-2 on Gomez, but then issued three straight balls to put Gomez on base. That man Harris followed with a single that sent Gomez to third (and nearly to home). That brought up Nick Punto, the Twins gritty, gutty, scrappy, crappy ninth hitter. Punto took to 2-2, fouled off a pitch, then singled through the middle scoring Gomez with the go-ahead run.
Joe Girardi then brought in Mariano Rivera who, as the TBS announcers reported, had allowed just 3 hits in 50 at-bats with men in scoring position in his postseason career. That became 4-for-51 as Denard Span singled Harris home to give the Twinks a 3-1 lead. Watching Rivera give up an insurance run, the Yankee Stadium crowd fell dead silent.
Twins set-up ace Matt Guerrier and Rivera exchanged scoreless innings, handing that 3-1 lead to Joe Nathan in the ninth. The first time these two teams met this season, the Yankees opened the series with a trio of walk-off wins at Yankee Stadium. In the first of those, Joe Nathan was handed a two-run lead in the ninth only to cough up both the lead and the game, one of just two losses Nathan suffered on the season.
Perhaps I had that game in the back of my mind, because looking at the Yankee batters due up–Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Hideki Matsui–I was convinced the Yankees would get a bloop from Teixeira and a blast from Rodriguez to tie the game.
Teixeira hit a 1-1 rope into right field for a lead-off single, and Alex Rodriguez, after taking to 3-1, crushed a fastball to the back wall of the Yankee bullpen in right for a game-tying home run.
Alex Rodriguez’s first postseason series as a Yankee was the 2004 ALDS against the Twins. With the Yankees trailing 6-5 in the 12th inning of Game Two of that series, Rodriguez hit a game-tying ground-rule double off Nathan as the Yankees rallied for the win. In Game Four, with the Yankees leading 2-1 in the series and the game tied 5-5 in the 11th, Rodriguez doubled, stole third, and scored what proved to be the series winning run on a wild pitch from Kyle Lohse to Gary Sheffield. Rodriguez hit .421/.476/.737 in that series and went 6-for-14 with two home runs and a pair of doubles in the first three games against the Red Sox in the subsequent ALCS.
From Game Four of the 2004 ALCS through the Yankees next two postseason series, ALDS losses to the Angels and Tigers, however, Rodriguez hit a dismal .109/.310/.196 in 58 plate appearances. He picked things up a bit against the Indians in 2007, hitting .267/.353/.467, but his only RBI came on a solo homer in the final game. Now, after two games in this postseason, Rodriguez is 4-for-8 with five RBIs, three of which came with two outs and the other two of which came on a game-tying home run off one of the game’s best closers in the bottom of the ninth. Throw in his work with the Mariners, and Alex Rodriguez is a career .290/.376/.503 hitter in the postseason. With that game-tying shot, Rodriguez officially laid to rest the “Alex can’t hit in October” fallacy. Good riddance.
Rodriguez’s homer sent the game into extra innings. Following the form, Alfredo Aceves got two quick outs in the tenth, then put runners on the corners before getting Orlando Cabrera to fly out. With Nathan still on in the tenth, Posada delivered a one-out single, setting up a typically thrilling pinch-running appearance by Brett Gardner.
Gardner stole second on the 2-0 pitch to Derek Jeter. Then, with the count 3-1, Nathan and Cabrera attempted to pick Gardner off on a timing play and had him beat to the bag, but Nathan’s throw looked more like a field goal attempt, splitting Cabrera on the bag and Punto playing his position and sailing into shallow center. Gardner dove back to the base, colliding with Cabrera’s knee, then stumbled after popping up to take third, but still beat Gomez’s throw.
With Gardner on third and one out, Gardenhire had Nathan issue an intentional ball four to Jeter and brought in rookie lefty Jose Mijares to go after Johnny Damon. Mijares’s first three pitches were out of the zone. He then poured in a gimme strike and got the count full when Damon fouled off the next pitch. Damon put good wood on the 3-2 pitch, but his sinking liner toward shortstop was caught by Cabrera, who was playing in to cut off the run. Gardner, thinking the ball would hit the grass, broke with contact rather than waiting for the ball to hit the ground and was easily doubled off to end the inning.
Gardner told Chad Jennings after the game, “It‘s a tough read. There’s not much time to make a decision and I thought it was going to short-hop him. When I saw that he caught it, I was committed to going home. Obviously I’m a little frustrated at myself for making a bad decision.”
Joe Girardi turned to Damaso Marte to start the 11th against Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel, but both singled, forcing Girardi to turn to the penultimate man in his pen, rookie David Robertson.
I should note that Mauer actually did more than single; he hit a ground-rule double down the left-field line, but left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi called the clearly fair ball foul, blowing his only responsibility in the game. The tone of this recap might have been very different had Cuzzi gotten the call right. Nonetheless, the soon-to-be MVP regrouped to single to center.
Robertson began his postseason career by giving up a single to Michael Cuddyer, but Mauer had to hold at third on the hit, putting Robertson in a bases-loaded no-outs jam with only Chad Gaudin, being held in reserve for extended work, available to relieve him. Robertson threw a curve to Delmon Young that Young lit into, but hit directly at the drawn-in Mark Teixeira (the Twins runners all stayed on their bases). Carlos Gomez then also swung at the first pitch, hitting a slow chopper to Teixeira, who threw home to force Mauer for the second out. With the bases still loaded, that man Brendan Harris came up, but flew out to Gardner on a 1-1 pitch, stranding all three runners, putting the Twins total for the game at 17 men left on base.
Mijares stayed on to face Teixeira batting righty in the bottom of the 11th. Teixeira took ball one. Missed strike one. Took ball two, then yanked the 2-1 pitch off the top of the left field wall, just above the 318-foot sign for a game-winning home run.
There was a brief pause before everyone realized the ball had indeed skipped into the stands for a home run, then the place went nuts. Teixeira looked like he was skipping around the bases. As he rounded third, he launched his helmet into the air then ran deep into his swarming teammates, who began jumping up and down in unison.
The Yankees had 15 previous walk-off wins this season, each celebrated with a pie in the face from A.J. Burnett. The only Yankee regulars who didn’t deliver walk-off hits during the regular season were Jeter and Teixeira. Friday night, Burnett got to end the night of his first post-season start by slathering Teixeira with one of his custom walk-off pies.
Yanks lead 2-0 and look to end the series and the Metrodome against Carl Pavano on Sunday. Suddenly, that feels just right.