I have a confession to make. I don’t hate Carl Pavano. I know that’s not the Banter-party line, and I often exploit his rampant unpopularity for jokes at his expense, but really, I don’t have any hard feelings about the guy. When the Yankees acquire someone via free agency, I don’t care how much they spend on that player, just so long as I never hear them use that contract as an excuse for why they can’t go obtain another player down the line. After 2004, the Yankees needed starting pitching. The free-agent market was not strong, and they foolishly sent some money Pavano’s way. And then he never really pitched for the Yankees over the four years of his contract.
Yeah, that sucked, but it’s not like that money prevented them from getting Roy Halladay or some other great pitcher. He didn’t even occupy a spot in the rotation after 2005, so it’s not like he blocked a spot for some promising prospect or tied Cashman’s hands when it came to other trades or signings. I know that $40 million would have been better spent elsewhere and it probably would have benefitted the Yankees in some tangible way, but sometimes free agent signings don’t work out. If you must hold a grudge, I say pin at least some of it on Cashman or George.
I have no painful memories of the guy – he never disappointed me in any way. He was off my radar-screen by the middle of the 2005 season, only popping up occasionally (ok, more than occasionally) as the butt of a joke. But the rest of the Twins are either bland or likable or absurd (yeah, I’m talking about you, Orlando Cabrera), so Carl Pavano is the easy choice for villain of this ALDS. And he has graciously accepted this role and donned the facial hair to support his performance.
How do you spot such a villain?
And he probably throws a change-up.
Pavano pitched well enough into the seventh, but he was not dominant. The Yankees lined up a few hits in front of Arod’s sac fly and Lance Berkman whipped out his fairway wood for a home run to the opposite field. Pavano may have sustained more damage if Robinson Cano had run hard out of the box in the fourth, or if Cano had waited for a good pitch to hit in the sixth. In the sixth Cano was overanxious, but not offensively so. But in the fourth Cano posed and postured on his liner to the right field wall and when Swisher followed, the double play was still very much in order and the Yankees could not cash in a runner on third with less than two outs. I would love it if all Yankees would just run hard out of the box every time, but I think that’s just a thing of the past.
In the seventh, the Yankees finally dismissed Pavano – hopefully for the rest of the ALDS. Jorge Posada worked the first Yankee walk of the night and Berkman, opting for the 3 iron this time, lined one over the center fielder’s head for a run scoring double. Berkman was victimized on a soft change-up off the outside corner in his first at bat and seemed to sit on it as he tagged a similar pitch for both the home run and the double. He was sitting on the outside change so hard in the seventh, that Pavano was able to slip a fastball in there for what should have been the third strike, but the home plate umpire missed the call. Irate due to the double, Ron Gardenhire argued the call and was thrown out of the game. I guess he decided his team needed firing up, because with the score only 3-2 Yankees, the game was still firmly in reach.
After the ejection, third baseman Danny Valencia misplayed a very good bunt by Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter lunged out into the opposite batter’s box to serve one into right field just in front of the diving Jason Kubel to plate Berkman. Jeter’s exaggerated follow through as he moved up the first baseline was priceless – he knew he was getting away with something. That was it for Carl Pavano and, unfortunately, that was it for the Yankees in the seventh. After Gardner’s attempt to give the Twins the first out of the inning failed, Granderson succeeded. His sacrifice paved the way for an intentional walk to Teixeira, thus loading the bases for Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. Arod got a meat ball on the first pitch from Jon Rauch, but could only foul it back. He went down swinging and Cano popped out to second. The game was hanging there for the Yankees, and they just couldn’t blow it open.
Andy Pettitte was just wonderful tonight. He had one bad inning, which wasn’t even that bad. He allowed a pair of singles, a walk and a pair of productive outs in the second. That made the score 1-0 Twins. And then he was just straight nails for the rest of the game, apart from a hanging cutter to Orlando Hudson in the sixth. Hudson lashed it over the left field wall to match Berkman’s homer and tie the score at two. Now that I have seen Andy Pettitte go seven strong, I am far more optimistic about this entire postseason.
Backing up Andy Pettitte was Walter Johnson. Or was it Bob Feller? Whoever he was, he was wearing Kerry Wood’s jersey and throwing sinister stuff. Put it this way, Kerry Wood was brilliant for the Yankees this year allowing only two runs in 26 innings and striking out 31. Apart from a surplus of walks he was almost like the Joba Chamberlain of 2007. And his eighth inning tonight blew any of those previous 26 out of the water.
The Yankees got another run in the ninth when Gardner and Granderson conspired to speed around the bases. Old man Derek Jeter tried to join them, but couldn’t leg out an infield hit. Still, his dribbler advanced Gardner to second. For there Gardner stole third and scored when Granderson won a tough battle with fireballer Matt Capps and dumped a single into center.
With a 5-2 lead headed into the bottom of the ninth inning, Mariano Rivera came in with more margin for error that he has had lately. He didn’t need it. Mauer’s a great hitter and I look forward to his at bats against Mariano. He really just can’t get comfortable up there. He managed a single as he fisted it into left field, but I think the confusion remains. Delmon Young rapped into a 6-4-3 and Mariano retired Jim Thome on a pop out to left to end the game for a second night in a row. The Yankees won 5-2 and now lead the ALDS two games to none. How about the positioning of Gardner on that play? Jim Thome’s farts go more than 300 feet, and yet there was Brett, perfectly placed, hugging the line in shallow left. I bet Jim Thome gets a hit on that ball 99% of the time.
Before the series, I was assigned the “Why the Twins Will Beat The Yankees” article. I thought the Twins had something special brewing in Minnesota, and I wasn’t sold on Andy Pettitte’s health. But with CC, Andy, Mariano and Wood throwing darts, and a deep, powerful lineup with newcomers Curtis Granderson and Lance Berkman getting big hits, this Yankee team is superior to the Twins and they have showed it. This series is not over, but the Yankees have put themselves in the best possible position to advance. Phil Hughes will start the biggest game of his life in game 3, but with a lot less pressure on him than could have been. Can’t wait.