Two days after the Yankees and Twins kicked off their Division Series matchup, the clubs finally came together to give Game Two a go. Regular catcher Jorge Posada would ride the bench in favor of backup Jose Molina, who had demonstrated the ability to work well with starter AJ Burnett in recent starts. The Yanks were looking to take a commanding lead in the series while the Twinkies were hoping to keep their playoff heads above water. One team got their wish, but not before they rode the roller coaster you see above.
Starters Burnett and Nick Blackburn matched zeroes for the first five innings, but did so in very different ways. Burnett, with his personal catcher in tow, walked a tight rope all night. He put at least one runner on base in all six innings he pitched, and seven of the ten batters he let reach base didn’t even have to swing the bat. It’s not normally a recipe for success, but it did the trick tonight. Blackburn, on the other hand, kept the Yankees hitters off balance all night with a mix of sinkers and curveballs and changeups, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning.
Minnesota drew first blood in the top of the sixth, when Burnett issued a walk to Delmon Young, who had drawn a grand total of 14 unintentional walks in 416 plate appearances this year. After Carlos Gomez struck out, predictably, pinch hitter Brendan Harris took Burnett’s 3-1 fastball and sent it deep into the left-centerfield. Teh bandbox managed to hold this one in, but the Twins were on the board thanks to a triple.
The Yankees would not be contained for long, answering back the very next inning. The Cap’n ground ruled a double into right center, and Johnny Damon followed that up with a walk to put runners at first and second with one out for the guys paid to drive in runs. Mark Teixeira, 0 for 6 in the series up to that point, flied out weakly to left, which brought last night’s hero – one Alex Rodriguez – to the plate. A-Rod spit on Blackburn’s first slider in the dirt, then send his next pitch through the 5.5 hole for an RBI single, knotting the game at one. Two games, three ribbies for the Yanks’ cleanup hitter, and he wasn’t done.
Burnett gave way to starter turned reliever turned starter turned reliever after an injury turned starter then turned reliever for the playoffs Joba Chamberlain, who got two quick ground ball outs before allowing a hit back up the middle to SuperMauer. Phil Coke came in and struck out Jason Kubel, who hits lefties like Jose Molina hits everyone. On came setup man Phil Hughes the next inning, who made quick work of Michael Cuddyer and Young. Carlos Gomez, a kid who has drawn just 47 unintentional walks in 963 plate appearances over the last two seasons, coaxed a free pass out of Hughes with two outs. Harris then laced his second hit of the night into the opposite field for a single, sending the speedy Gomez the third. Seven pitches later, #9 hitter Nick Punto looping a hanging curve in front of centerfield Melky Cabrera for a 2-1 lead.
Out went St. Phil and in came the Hammer of God, but Denard Span didn’t think much of the future Hall of Famer and singled to right to push the lead to two runs. Rivera escaped the inning without allowing any further damage, but the good guys were down two with ubercloser Joe Nathan looming in Minnesota’s pen.
An inning later, the Yanks were down those same two runs with just three outs to go against Nathan, and things looked bleak. Teixeira, now 0 for 7 in the series, took the first two pitches leading off the inning before lining a hard single down into the right field corner. With an RBI single already to his credit in the game, A-Rod came to plate needing to do anything besides make an out. He did that and then some.
The first pitch was a breaking ball in the dirt, the second a breaking ball off the plate, ditto the third. With a 3-0 count after three pitches well off the plate, it seemed like the Twins were pitching around the three time AL MVP, however it didn’t make sense to do so in that spot. The fourth pitch was a fastball down and in, called for a strike. Great pitch, no way any righthanded batter hits that ball with any authority. 3-1 is a classic fastball count and A-Rod certainly got his fastball, crushing it to deep into the Yankees bullpen to tie the game. In a Yankee career full of postseason disappointments, Rodriguez atoned for all past mistakes with that one swing. The game was tied, and the Yankees had new lease on life in the game.
The Bombers came up to the plate in the 10th looking to start a rally, and Jorge Posada did just that when he blooped a Nathan pitch in for a single. On came pinch runner extraordinaire Brett Gardner, who stole second before moving to third when Nathan tossed a pickoff throw into centerfield. Derek Jeter was intentionally walked to set up the double play, and the Yanks were in business with runners on the corners and just one out. Johnny Damon, mired in a month long slump, took the first four pitches from reliever Jose Mijares before fouling a pitch off for a full count. Mijares’ next offered was lined back up the middle, and it seemed like the Yanks were on their way to another walk-off win and a 2-0 series lead. Except Orlando Cabrera caught it, and Brett Gardner ventured too far off third. O-Cab made the quick flip over to double off Gardner, and the Yankee threat was squashed.
Damaso Marte march out the pen to take the rubber in the top of the 11th. Placed on the ALDS roster for two reasons and two reasons only, Marte allowed both of them to reach base. Joe Girardi turned to young David Robertson with SuperMauer and Jason Kubel standing at first and second with no outs, and K-Rob™ hung a curve to Michael Cuddyer, which he promptly dunked into the outfield to load the bases with zero outs.
Plate discipline is a wonderful thing. It’s not all about drawing walks and working deep counts, it’s about being selective and knowing what pitches to swing at. Luckily for the Yankees and Mr. Robertson, neither Delmon Young nor Carlos Gomez has much plate discipline. Young lined the first pitch he saw to Mark Teixeira for out number one, then Gomez grounded to Tex, who forced the runner at home for out number two. With two gift outs in his pocket, Robertson needed to coax an out anyway he could out of Brendan Harris, who up to that point had been a pretty big pain in the Yankees’ ass. The first pitch was a fastball strike, the second a fastball low for a 1-1 count. D-Rob’s third fastball was lifted in the air by Harris, but landed safely in the glove of new centerfielder Brett Gardner. Bases loaded, no outs, and the Yanks escaped unscathed.
Even though the Yanks staff had kept them in the game, the pitching tonight was downright dreadful for the pinstripers. The Twins 6-7-8-9 hitters reached base a combined ten times, and 15 of Minny’s 21 baserunners overall reached base with two outs in the inning. No Yankee pitcher managed to retire the side in order. The Yankees can’t count on the opposing team stranding 17 runners on base every night, but for tonight it was just what the doctor ordered.
After David Robertson pulled his Houdini act in the 11th, the Yanks were looking to their heart of their order to give them the win. Mark Teixeira led off the inning for his second straight plate appearance, and four pitches into his at-bat he sent Jose Mijares’ offering into the people beyond the leftfield wall. The Yankees won in walk-off and comeback fashion yet again, and declared to not just the Twins, but to all of baseball that WE WILL NOT BE STOPPED.