AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 2
YANKEES 5, TWINS 2
When Andy Pettitte joined the Houston Astros as a free agent he became good friends with Lance Berkman. When Berkman agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join the New York Yankees on July 31, Berkman quickly renewed his friendship with Pettitte.
On Thursday night the two friends wreaked havoc on the Minnesota Twins and put the defending champions to within one game of their second straight American League Championship Series.
Pettitte (1-0) took care of the pitching.
He gave up two runs on only five hits and one walk and struck out four batters in seven innings of masterful work. Pettitte also increased his major-league-leading postseason win total to 19 games.
Even better than that, he silenced doubters throughout the media who said he could not be counted upon to pitch effectively with only three tune-up starts after coming off the disabled list with a groin injury.
Berkman took care of the clutch hitting.
With the game tied at one and with one out in the fifth inning, Berkman connected off Twins’ starter Carl Pavano for a long majestic opposite field blast into the Twins’ bullpen in left-center. The home run was the seventh postseason home run for Berkman and his first since 2005.
Unfortunately for Berkman and Pettitte, Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson dialed it up a solo home run of his own with one out in the sixth inning. To say Pettitte was shocked is putting it mildly. Hudson has only 86 career home runs in nine seasons and he hit only six this season.
The blast to left was only Hudson’s second postseason home run. In other words, Albert Pujols has nothing to worry about.
Berkman merely shook off the setback and went to work in the seventh inning. Jorge Posada opened the inning by drawing Pavano’s only walk. It cost Pavano dearly, too.
Berkman quickly fell behind Pavano in the count 1-2. Pavano then threw the most controversial pitch of the evening. Pavano’s two-seam or sinking fastball went whistling toward the inside corner and home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called it a ball.
Pavano, manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the Twins thought they had strike three. But now the count was 2-2. Pavano then tried a change-up but Berkman merely waited for it and smashed it over the head of Denard Span in center-field for a double to score Posada from first with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Gardenhire then went to the mound, ostensibly to talk to Pavano. But his real reason was to induce Wendelstedt to break up the conference on the mound so Gardenhire could light into him for the missed strike call. Wendelstedt, as is his duty when a manager argues balls and strikes, ended Gardenhire’s evening by dismissing him from the game.
A note about the umpiring: To be fair to Wendelstedt, he did not call inside corner strikes for either team throughout the game. The TBS network pitch tracker showed that time after time during the game. Wendelstedt did, however, give Pavano and Pettitte leeway on the outside corner.
I doubt this fact is of much consolation for the Twins fans who made up the vast majority of the Target Field record crowd of 42,305.
Play then resumed with a bunt single by Brett Gardner to move Berkman to third. Derek Jeter then scored Berkman with a bloop RBI single to right.
That ended the evening for the Yankees’ former malingering right-hander, Pavano (0-1). He pitched six-plus innings and gave up four runs on 10 hits and a walk and he struck out three.
The Yankees changed their usual approach on hitting Pavano by trying to swing at fastballs early in the count rather than let Pavano use his breaking pitches in deeper counts.
The strategy paid off and Pettitte and the Yankees have now defeated Pavano in two straight ALDS games. Pettitte outdueled Pavano in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS as the Yankees swept the Twins.
Payback is a b—-, huh, Carl?
The Yankees added an insurance run in the ninth when Curtis Granderson blooped a single into center off Twins closer Matt Capps to plate Gardner from third. It was Granderson’s third hit of the night and he is hitting a robust .500 in the series.
The Yankees bullpen, which has been a pillar of strength for the Yankees in the second half of the season, came through again to shut down the Twins in the final two frames.
Kerry Wood struck out two batters while pitching a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera . . . excuse me . . . yawn! . . . came in and put the Twins to sleep for the second straight evening with a scoreless ninth aided by a double play off the bat of Delmon Young that Rivera started himself.
Rivera notched his second save of the series and he now has major-league-best 41 career postseason saves.
The Yankees have now defeated the Twins in 11 of their last 13 postseason meetings dating back to 2003 and they also have won an astounding 10 postseason games in a row from this sad lot from Minneapolis. The Twins have also never beaten the Yankees in Minnesota, whether it be the Metrodome or the new Target Field.
Pettitte, making his major-league-best 41st career postseason start, extended his majors-topping postseason innings pitched total to 256. In giving up a sacrifice fly to Danny Valencia in the second inning that gave the Twins a 1-0 lead, Pettitte started a streak of 12 batters in a row he retired until Hudson touched him for his home run the sixth.
Their Twins are now in a serious 0-2 hole as the best-of-five series now shifts to the Bronx for Game 3 on Saturday. Of the 19 teams that have gained a 2-0 lead in the ALDS, 15 of them have won the series (79%).
In order to change the luck of the Twins on Thursday, Gardenhire reportedly burned everything he wore in Wednesday’s game — even his underwear and shoes. I hope he doesn’t burn down Target Field to break this wicked playoff curse the Yankees hold on the Twins.
What can we call it? Hmmm! How about Curse of the Pav-bino?
The Yankees, who now sit in the driver’s seat in this ALDS, will look to put the pedal to metal on Saturday with the keys going to right-hander Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA). Hughes did not face the Twins this season and he has a 1-1 mark with a 5.25 ERA in postseason play. But that work was all as a reliever.
The Twins will look to break the Curse of the Pav-bino behind left-hander Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 ERA). Duensing did not become a starter for the Twins until July 23. He was 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts. He is 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA in the postseason and he was the losing pitcher in Game 1 of the 2009 of the ALDS against the Yankees.
While they are in the Northeast, maybe the Twins can seek out Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell to whip up a satanic ritual to rid them of this curse. It could not hurt.
Game-time will be 8:30 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by TBS.
GAME 1 KEY MOMENT
The Minnesota Twins entered the eighth inning of Wednesday’s Game 1 trailing the New York Yankees 6-4 and knowing that time was running out if they wanted to make a comeback. The Yankees turned to reliever Kerry Wood to pitch the inning and to be the bridge to Mariano Rivera.
Wood started the inning by striking out Michael Cuddyer swinging. But he ran into trouble by walking Jason Kubel and allowing an infield single to rookie Danny Valencia. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire inserted pinch-runners Jason Repko and Matt Tolbert to relace Kubel and Valencia and No. 9 hitter J.J. Hardy advanced them by grounding out to second baseman Robinson Cano for the second out.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi summoned Rivera from the bullpen to face lefty swinging leadoff hitter Denard Span and this proved to be the key moment of Game 1.
To say Rivera is the dominant reliever of the modern baseball era is putting it mildly. Rivera entered Wednesday’s game with 39 postseason saves. The next closest reliever to him is the Phillies’ closer Brad Lidge with – get this – 16!
But the Twins knew this two-out opportunity with runners at second and third was their best chance to, not only tie the game, but to make a statement they were in this series to end the domination of the Yankees.
Rivera started Span off with his patented cutter inside on the hands of Span, however, Span laid off and the pitch was way inside.
Down 1-0, Rivera tried another cutter inside but lower in the strike zone. Span chose to let it go and it too was called a ball by home-plate umpire Jerry Crawford.
Span geared up for something to hit, knowing he was up in the count 2-0. Catcher Jorge Posada, sticking to the scouting report on Span, signaled for another cutter inside. But the great Rivera, known for his impeccable control, missed inside once again.
Could this be the moment the Twins had finally seized control? Another ball would load the bases for Orlando Hudson. A base hit to the outfield would tie the game.
Posada and Rivera stuck to the game plan and tried yet another cutter inside. Though the pitch actually missed the strike zone, Crawford gave Rivera the strike call.
Rivera kept the pressure on by aiming yet another cutter inside. Span was tied up and the ball darted down and in as he swung. He fouled it off harmlessly off to the right.
Though Rivera has been known to try to back-door two-seam fastballs to the outside corner, Posada called for a sixth consecutive cutter inside and Rivera nodded in agreement. With 42,302 fans watching and most of them on their feet at Target Field, Rivera went into his stretch and bent at the waist to his set.
With the game and the lead on the line Rivera again threw his bread-and-butter cutter. Span, protecting the plate on the full count, swung his bat. But the darting cutter jammed him and the bat practically shattered on contact.
As Span sped from the batter’s box down the line, the ball rolled slowly to shortstop Derek Jeter. Jeter, knowing Span had great speed, charged the ball hard, picked it out of his glove and threw in one motion to first.
Though it looked at first that Span might beat it, Jeter’s laser-like throw to first baseman Mark Teixeira reached Teixeira’s glove a step before Span hit the first base bag. First-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt raised his right arm and called Span out.
Gardenhire, his team and the Twins fans collectively groaned as Rivera headed to the Yankees’ dugout. The future Hall of Fame closer would later pitch a “four-out” ninth inning to record his 40th postseason save and the Yankees would take Game 1 and wrest home-field advantage away from the Twins in the best-of-five series.