October 9, 2009
ALDS, Game Two
Yankees Lead Series, 1-0
Twins: Denard Span (CF), Orlando Cabrera (SS), Joe Mauer (C), Jason Kubel (DH), Michael Cuddyer (1B), Delmon Young (LF), Carlos Gomez (CF), Matt Tolbert (3B), Nick Punto (2B), Nick Blackburn (P)
Yankees: Derek Jeter (SS), Johnny Damon (LF), Mark Teixeira (1B), Alex Rodriguez (3B), Hideki Matsui (DH), Nick Swisher (RF), Robinson Cano (2B), Melky Cabrera (CF), Jose Molina (C), A.J. Burnett (P)
On paper, Nick Blackburn had no business being on the same plane as A.J. Burnett. Burnett's stuff was good, and at a certain time in his career Burnett's career trajectory was going to make him one of the best starters in the game. It didn't turn out that way, but he was still pretty good. Blackburn, meanwhile, had finished the best season of his career but couldn't match Burnett in the peripherals.
Yet, for five innings, Blackburn did match Burnett. And let's be honest - look at those lineups and tell me who had the more difficult job. Burnett plunked back-to-back batters with two out in the fourth, but some bone-headed base running from Carlos Gomez kept the Twins off the board. Matt Tolbert had singled with runners on first and second, but somehow Delmon Young and Gomez both tried to be on third base. That was dumb.
But the Twins did finally break through in the sixth, when Brendan Harris (pinch hitting for an injured Tolbert) tripled to bring home Young, who had walked. Because life is funny that way. Alex Rodriguez, who else, singled in the Yankee sixth to tie the game and chase Blackburn. It was a 1-1 contest after six.
Two innings later the Twins put themselves in position to win the game, as Nick Punto and Denard Span picked up back-to-back, two out, run-scoring singles. With a 3-1 lead, Matt Guerrier was charged with turning the Yanks away in the bottom of the eighth, and he did just that thanks to a fantastic catch by Harris on a Derek Jeter line drive.
Joe Nathan, though, always seemed to have trouble with the Yankees. A-Rod killed Minnesota again, this time with a two-run shot with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. Nathan got through the inning, but the game had changed hands. Punto and Span came through again with two outs in the top of the tenth but with no runners on base in front of them, no damage was done.
In the bottom of the tenth, Nathan continued to come unglued. After Brett Gardner stole second base, Nathan had him picked off but threw the ball away. Jeter was intentionally walked to set up the double play, and then Gardy took Nathan out.
Jose Mijares entered the game, and pulled out a miracle. Johnny Damon spanked the ball right to Orlando Cabrera at short, who flipped to Harris on third to double off Gardner and send the game to the eleventh.
You remember what happens next, right? Joe Mauer doubles off the left field line but Phil Cuzzi blows his job and rules it foul. Mauer still managed to get a single, as did Jason Kubel, as did Michael Cuddyer to load the bases with nobody out. But Young lined out, Gomez ground into a force out at home, and Harris flew out to end the inning. Dave Robertson had one hell of a start to his playoff career.
Mark Teixeira homered on a 2-1 pitch to walk the Yankees off. He was the first batter Mijares saw in the bottom half of the innng, and the homer sent the series back to Minnesota with the Bombers up 2-0.
This game is one of the worst, for me. Because it could have easily been different. Minnesota had scored first, again. And they couldn't come through when it mattered, again. The Twins combined to leave 17 men on base.