We here at RAB tend to be a pretty analytical in our coverage of the Yankees, typically ignoring intangibles for cold hard facts like those represented in statistics. By definition intangibles can not be measured, so to guess at their value and impact seems foolhardy at best. But at this point, I don’t think there’s any way we can deny that the Yankees are in the heads of the Minnesota Twins. No matter what the Twinkies try to do, whether they play small ball or long ball or who they start, they just can’t seem to beat the guys from New York. That was the case again on Thursday, when the Yanks stuck to their mantra of wearing down the opposing starter down and capitalizing in the later innings.
Biggest Hit: Berkman Parties Like It’s 2006
Every team needs some unheralded players to step up in the postseason, but in most cases Lance Berkman wouldn’t qualify as that guy. He’s a career .296/.409/.545 hitter with 327 homers, five All Star appearances, and four top five finishes in the MVP voting to his credit. But in a lineup as deep and dangerous as the the one the Yanks’ trot out there every night, Berkman is just a platoon designated hitter that bats eighth. Pretty crazy.
The score was tied at two into the seventh inning, but the most overrated player in the baseball history*, a.k.a. Jorge Posada, worked a six pitch walk to lead things off. It seemed like a logical time to pinch run, but Joe Girardi stayed with his stalwart backstop, and Berkman made sure it was a moot point. Carl Pavano pounded Lance with hard stuff, using sinkers and cutters and regular old four-seamers to get the count even at 2-2 before going to something soft. Just as he did earlier in the game (more on that in a bit), Berkman got a hold of Pavano’s changeup down in the zone and rocketed it out to left-center and over Denard Span’s head.
Of course, like everything else these days, the at-bat was filled with controversy. Home plate ump Hunter Wendelstedt was calling a wide zone all night, but Pavano’s 1-2 sinker to Berkman appeared to catch the inside corner of the plate for what should have been strike three. Wendelstedt called it a ball, and one pitch later the Yanks’ DH doubled in Posada for the go-ahead run. Let’s not understate Posada’s baserunning here; he chugged around from first on the play. It’s wasn’t even two outs either, so he didn’t get a head start. It was all hustle.
Ron Gardenhire got tossed for arguing the non-strike call after the double, but it did no good. I’m sure there was a lot of frustration boiling over. Anyway, too bad, I have no sympathy after the zone Pavano was working with all evening (see below), and Berkman’s double gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender. The WPA of this sucker was .192 in favor of the good guys.
* Not really
Honorable Mention: Lance, A Lot
Puma hit just one homerun in 123 plate appearances with the Yanks after the trade, but he wasted no time making his mark on the postseason. The Twins took a one-zip lead in the second on a Danny Valencia sacrifice fly, but the Yanks’ third baseman replied with a sac fly of his own in the fourth. One inning later, the Bombers took their first lead of the night when Berkman launched a Carl Pavano 2-0 changeup to the opposite field and into the second (deeper) bullpen. It was a total golf shot, a ball at the shins that he just muscled out to the opposite field. Most teams are lucky to have a third place hitter that can do that. Berkman was hitting eighth for the Yankees tonight. The WPA of this one checked in at .135.
Biggest Outs: Pettitte Escapes The First
For the last few weeks, all we heard about was how the Yankees had no pitching behind CC Sabathia. It was as if they were starting Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova in Games Two and Three, not Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Sure, Pettitte’s final two starts of the season weren’t textbook, but people were treating the guy like he just escaped from the glue factory.
Game Two started much like Game One, with Span singling to lead off the bottom of the first. On Wednesday the Twins did the Yanks a favor by sacrifice bunting him to second, but they learned their lesson and let Orlando Hudson swing away this time around. Pettitte jumped ahead with fastball on the outer black, then did exactly what he planned to do with his second pitch cutter in on the hands. It jammed Hudson, who tapped it back to Andy who started the 1-6-3 twin killing.
Joe Mauer struck out four pitches later and the inning was over after just 16 pitches, but that double play was huge. Minnesota had a chance to not necessarily break things open that early in the game, but they could have built Pettitte’s pitch count up and maybe even scratch out a run or two. Instead they got nothing, letting the Yankee lefthander off the hook. This was completely subjective on my part as far as being the biggest outs, by the way. WPA says Delmon Young’s ninth inning double play was the biggest defensive play by the Yankees, checking in at .094.
The Andy We All Know And Love
Pettitte’s last two regular season starts lasted all of 7.1 innings combined, and he got smacked around for 19 hits and ten runs in that span. You never would have been able to tell that by how he performed in this game, when he stifled the Twins over seven innings. He surrendered just five hits and a walk while striking out four. He allowed a run in the second after loading the bases thanks to some weak singles and a walk, but that was pretty much all Minnesota got for the night.
Andy retired a dozen in a row from the second through the sixth, a streak that was broken up by Hudson’s game tying solo homer. Pettitte rebounded to end the inning as well as tack on another, handing the ball over to the bullpen with a lead and three measly outs to get before Mariano Rivera came into play.
The 38-year-old lefty was clearly the star of the night for the Yankees, regardless of Berkman’s heroics with the bat. All those questions about the rotation after Sabathia seem pretty silly right now, at least for one night. It was Pettitte’s 19th career postseason win, easily the most of all time. Not enough can be said about his night, he was simply masterful.
The Brian Cashman All-Stars
Fat Elvis wasn’t the only new Yankee to do some damage. No, in fact it was a banner night for Cashman’s latest pickups.
Curtis Granderson, a night after his huge go-ahead triple, picked up three hits including one that drove in an all important insurance run in the top of the ninth. He also scored the first run after reaching on a boomed double off the right-centerfield wall. Setup man Kerry Wood … holy schnikees. He brought the pain in the eighth, striking out J.J. Hardy with one of his trademark knee-buckling curveballs, retiring Span on a weak tapper to the mound, and punching out Hudson with some high gas. It was straight up domination, homes.
Hunter Wendelstedt’s Strike LOL Zone
Look at this disaster…
That’s a look at the strike zone from the catcher’s view. The green squares are balls for the Twins, red squares called strikes. The Yanks are the triangles, green for balls, red for the called strikes. Sure looks like Minny got the benefit of the outside corner to lefties, doesn’t it? What a mess, I can’t wait for the robots.
Ho hum, Mariano Rivera gave up a leadoff broken bat bloop single to Mauer in the ninth, but he then atoned by coaxing an absolute tailor made double ball out of Young. A few pitches later, Jim Thome popped out to the left side for the final out for the second consecutive night. Facing five batters on Wednesday had no ill-effects on The Sandman. Just another day at the office.
In a nice reversal of fortune, the Yanks went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position, though they did strand the bases loaded in the seventh after Alex Rodriguez and Robbie Cano had chances to put this one to bed early. No harm, no foul I guess.
For the second night in the row, every Yankee in the starting lineup reached base at least once, with Grandy, Mark Teixeira, Berkman, and Brett Gardner doing so multiple times each. Nick Swisher doubled but also grounded into a double play with men on the corners in the fourth with the score tied. That the biggest out(s) made by a Yankee batter at -.138 WPA.
Believe it or not, the Twins have scored first the last eight (!!!) times these two clubs have met in the playoffs, dating back to 2004. The Yankees are 8-0 in those games. Unreal. They now have a commanding two games to none lead in the best-of-five series without enjoying the luxury of a home game yet.
WPA Graph & Box Score
These two clubs will use tomorrow to travel back to New York before resuming the series Saturday night. Hughes gets the ball against former U.S. Olympian Brian Duensing.