It started off pretty well. Only Derek Jeter's single to lead off the bottom of the first for the Yankees meant the Bombers had a base runner in the first two innings, as Brian Duensing mixed in all of his pitches early to keep New York off-balance. Indeed, it looked like familiar foe C.C. Sabathia might be the pitcher to struggle in this one, at least early on.
Nick Punto singled after six pitches to lead off the third, with Sabathia feeding him nothing but fastballs low and over the plate before Denard Span forced the Twins ro rally with two outs by grounding into a double play. It did show that, at that time, Sabathia wasn't really comfortable. Orlando Cabrera deliverd on a seven-pitch single, and Joe Mauer took Sabathia's I'm-trying-to-walk-you-without-intentionally-walking-you approach and turned it into a double. Michael Cuddyer finally took pity on C.C. and pushed a line drive into right for a single on the first pitch he saw, scoring Cabrera and giving the Twins a 1-0 lead.
Minnesota took a 2-0 lead on a passed ball, when Jorge Posada inexplicably couldn't catch a Sabathia fastball. Jason Kubel backed away quickly and Mauer did score, but Kubel, for whatever reason, never gave Mauer any signal as to what he should do. Joe was momentarily trapped--he took off as soon as the ball got away and then paused, waiting for Kubel to either wave him in or put up the stop sign, but it never came. Finally Joe caught sight of the ball himself and slid around the tag to give the Twins a 2-0 lead.
Of course it all went downhill from there.
Derek Jeter's two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning knotted the score. Nick Swicher's double scored Robinson Cano in the fourth. In the fifth, Duensing couldn't stem the tide, bouncing back to get two outs after walking Derek Jeter but then succumbing to the biggest Yankee outburth of the evening. Alex Rodriguez singled to extend New York's lead to 4-2, and that was the end of Brian's night.
Enter: Francisco Liriano.
Exit: Liriano's 93-mph fastball. 6-2, Yankees.
A-Rod would single in Jeter in the seventh to add one more, but it would hardly seem to matter. After the sixth the Twins had their opportunities and let them slide away. Span and Cabrera couldn't come through in the seventh with one out and runners on second and third; Mauer's leadoff single in the eighth was wasted; Cabrera stranded Punto and Span on third and second respectively to end the game.
Once again it was Minnesota's failure to capitalize with runners in scoring position that forced this game to turn out the way it did. The face of this one could have been much different; not that the Twins would have won, but they would have at least had a chance in the late innings with a closer score. It's hard to keep the Yankees from scoring less than five runs; they scored an astounding 915 times in the regular season. But if the offense isn't going to take advantage of the base runners they either earn or are gifted, then we're in even more trouble.
This one rests as much with the pitching as it does with the offense. It was an incomplete game on all sides of the ball, and while we could let Tuesday night's contest shoulder the blame for fatigue and let-down, but there's really no excuse now. And even if it were true, it doesn't much matter at the end of the day. The dreaded Yankees hold a one game lead in the 2009 ALDS.
Stars of the Game
#3: Joe Mauer (2-for-4, 2B, R, -.023 WPA)
#2: Michael Cuddyer (1-for-4, RBI, .034 WPA)
#1: Nick Punto (2-for-3, BB, .037 WPA)
Tears for You
Brian Duensing (4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 K 1 BB, -.227 WPA)
Francisco Liriano (2.0 IP, 1 R but a 2-run HR, 1 K, 1 BB, -.111 WPA)