Thursday, October 7, 2010
Game 1: Twins 4, Yankees 6
Have I been here before? It really feels a little like dťjŗ vu here. Early lead. Meltdown. Tie it up. Give up the lead. Get some opportunities. Donít come through. Stop! Rivera Time .Game Over. Twins lose. Yankees win.
Hereís how cool I am (in case you were wondering). I was watching the game and jotting down notes on a note pad. Cool, huh? Here are some of the things I jotted down:
∑ The concern with starting Francisco Liriano was whether or not he could handle the big situation. Specifically the concern was how he could handle the first inning. Well, in the first inning, Liriano looked terrific. His slider was sharp and darting in on the righties. His fastball was sitting at 94 and 95 with good control. His change up (on TV) looked Johan-like.
∑ Again in the second inning, Liriano had three good pitches. He got the first two outs easily, but then he walked Marcus Thames. He then gave up a slap single to right† by Jorge Posada, but he got Curtis Granderson to ground out to 1B to end the inning.
∑ With one out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Jim Thome was hit in the upper back/shoulder by a Sabathia pitch. The pitch looked like it was meant to be a slider. The slow-motion replay showed that it just spun. Backing up his teammate, Michael Cuddyer came up and drilled a long, long-drive blast into the trees beyond the centerfield fence to give the Twins a 2-0 lead.
∑ So, how did Liriano respond to a lead the next half-inning? By walking the Yankees ninth hitter, Brett Gardner, to lead off the top of the 3rd. It was followed by a soft single by Derek Jeter, but then Liriano did bear down and got Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira out before striking out Alex Rodriguez on three straight pitches.
∑ The Twins added a run in the bottom of the 3rd in an unusual way. Orlando Hudson led off with a single. Then Joe Mauer grounded slowly toward first base. Hudson was off with the pitch. Teixeira fielded the grounder but because Sabathia was not covering first base, Teixeira had to dive to first base to get Mauer by about a foot. Mauer inexplicably dove head first into the first base bag. We all bash Nick Punto for stupidly diving into first base. Some call it Ďfake hustle.í I donít think that term is fair, but weíve heard over and over that it is quicker to get to the base is you just run through it. But at least it looked like Mauer was extra hustling for the playoffs. Now, because Teixeira dove into 1B for the out, Hudson wisely rounded 2B and went all the way to 3B without a throw. Was it a big thing? Well, the next pitch got past Jorge Posada and Hudson was able to give the Twins a 3-0 lead thanks to the extra hustle.
∑ Through three innings, Francisco Liriano had thrown 57 pitches. In the top of the 4th, he had a much-needed eight pitch inning! Through three innings, CC Sabathia had 58 pitches. In the fourth, he got three Twins out in 12 pitches.
∑ In the top of the 5th, Liriano again had a 1-2-3 inning. After falling behind Curtis Granderson 3-1, he struck him out. Then he struck out Brett Gardner before Derek Jeter flew out to centerfield. Liriano was dominating. Sabathia also threw another zero on the board in the bottom of the 5th.
∑ Liriano started the top of the 6th inning by striking out Nick Swisher and all was well in the world. However, things can happen so quickly in this game, and itís all magnified in the postseason. Mark Teixeira doubled down the left field line and move to 3B on a wild pitch. Alex Rodriguez then walked. Then Liriano gave up a single to Robinson Cano to score the Yankees first run. But no worries, I mean, Cano could win the AL MVP this year. Twins still up 3-1. Marcus Thames then struck out for the second out. Jorge Posada then hit a liner just over the outstretched glove of a leaping Orlando Hudson. It scored Alex Rodriguez. (in hindsight, what if that ball is just a few inches lower? How different is the end result of the inning and the game?) However, the Twins still held a 3-2 lead with two outs in the 6th.
∑ Gardenhire could have come out and taken Liriano out of the game. He was just under 100 pitches. Granderson was 4-22 with 12 strikeouts against Liriano. Granderson simply does not hit left-handed pitching. Could he have brought in Mijares? Sure, but how much confidence do we have in him right now? So, Liriano stays in the game and proceeds to give up a two run triple on a high fly ball to right field that somehow hit ĺ of the way up the wall. Now the Twins are down 4-3, and Gardy went to Jose Mijares who got the final out of the inning.
∑ Now in the bottom of the sixth inning, Delmon Young just missed one. He lifted a high fly ball to the warning track in left field. Jim Thome followed with a walk. Then Michael Cuddyer ripped a line drive to left field that Gardner dove for and almost caught, but it came out of his glove for a double with Thome advancing to 3B. With two outs, it was Jason Kubel against Sabathia, and Kubel is really bad against lefties, especially really good lefties like Sabathia. Inexplicably, Kubel walked. That brought Danny Valencia to the plate, and Sabathia walked him to bring in the game tying run. JJ Hardy came up with the bases still loaded and despite a good at bat and seeing a lot of pitches, it ended with a strikeout.
∑ At this point, it was clear that this was now a three inning bullpen game. Iíll take my chances with the Twins bullpen. Jesse Crain has been as good as any reliever in baseball since late May. He got Derek Jeter out to lead off the inning. Then Nick Swisher rolled a single up the middle. Then came the Mark Teixeira at bat. After two really good pitches were called balls, it was 2-0 instead of the 0-2 that it should have been. But thatís beside the point. Crain evened things at 2-2 and there were a couple more foul balls. Unfortunately, Crain hung a slider right down the middle to Teieira and he hit a home run just to the fair side of the foul pole to give the Yankees that 6-4 lead. Crain then gave up an infield single to Alex Rodriguez and his night was done. Brian Fuentes came in and got Robinson Cano and Marcus Thames to ground out to end the inning.
∑ Boone Logan came in for the bottom of the 7th inning. He got the first two outs, but then Joe Mauer bounced a single through the right side of the infield. Joe Girardi went to David Robertson who came in and walked Delmon Young to bring up the situation that the Twins brought Jim Thome in to produce in. Robertson started him with a fastball down the middle of the plate. That may have been the pitch for Thome to hit. There was a slow curveball for strike two, and a slow curveball that bounced before the plate that Thome fanned at for the third out of the inning. I donít expect Thome to come through every time. He has come through plenty of times throughout the year. I was just disappointed because I was hoping for a better at bat.
∑ Brian Fuentes pitched a perfect 8th inning. If youíre looking for a positive in the game, Fuentes is one of a few. He came in and face five batters and got all five out.
∑ Kerry Wood came in for the bottom of the 8th inning. Michael Cuddyer had a terrific game, but he had a really bad at bat. He took some pitches, and it was on the verge of being a really good at batÖ until he swung at a pitch in his eyes for strike three. Jason Kubel had another good at bat and worked a walk. Danny Valencia then reached on an infield single. At that point, Mr. Sandman entered the game. Denard Span did a terrific job the first three pitches, working the count to 3-0. They all started on the inner part of the plate and cut inside. The fourth pitch was called a strike, although it was a little inside too. But then Span swung at the next two pitches that were further inside, and on the second one grounded out to end the inning.
∑ Jon Rauch had a smooth 1-2-3 top of the 9th.
∑ In the bottom of the 9th inning, Rivera got his 40th career postseason save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
So there are the highlights from the game with a few thoughts. Now here are a few more general thoughts on the game and the series.
∑ Who is the blame for this loss? There are several answers being thrown out by on Twitter and Facebook and on call-in shows:
o Ron Gardenhire Ė This one baffles me. I honestly donít know what the manager should have or could have done differently. Obviously hind sight is 20/20, but I didnít disagree with any of his decisions. I would have left Liriano in against Granderson. I would have left Crain in against Teixeira. I mean, Gardy isnít perfect, but he is as good as any manager in the game at this point.
o Francisco Liriano Ė Sure, you can blame him. I mean, he had the 3-0 lead, and if heís really an Ace, heís got to get through the sixth inning without giving up the lead. The 6th inning just happened so fast, and again, if Posadaís liner is three inches lower, itís caught and things are different.
o Jesse Crain Ė Heís the best middle reliever in baseball. He made a bad pitch. He threw the right pitch, he just hung it.
o The offense Ė Sure, there were 0-7 with runners in scoring position. That isnít the managerís fault, is it? Of course not. Thatís not a good number, and no one would say it is. But it doesnít factor in Danny Valenciaís RBI walk.
∑ I believe that the Twins are as good as the Yankees. I believe that the Twins players and coaches believe they can beat the Yankees. I do think that the Twins fans are more intimidated by the Yankees than anyone else. The one thing that I was worried about was the umpires being intimidated by the Yankees. It always seems that many close pitches to Yankees batters are called balls, especially with two strikes. That was my concern. And, again, if you follow Twitter, there were a lot of people complaining about the strike zone. Here are my thoughts on the strike zone:
o It was something that worried me before the game, and I do believe that it is an unintentional reality.
o However, I think it is way too easy of an excuse for Twins fans.
o Umpires make the right call most of the time, and especially on ball-strike calls, and I donít expect them to be right all the time.
o Depending on if you believe the ball-strike graphic, the umpires were right most of the time, at least when they showed it. The Yankees know the strike zone and they donít expand it. Itís frustrating because when Jesse Crain throws one of his sharp sliders just off the outside corner of the plate, I donít know how they donít swing at it. It is a ball, but itís a great pitch. I do think that the umps were right most of the time.
o But again, I have no idea how Mark Teixeira wasnít down 0-2 in his at bat against Crain in the 7th.
∑ Game 1 was a must-win for the Yankees because CC Sabathia is their one great pitcher. If the Twins had won that game, this could have been a quick series. With Andy Pettitte not at 100% and Phil Hughes a shell of what he was in the first half, the Twins do have an opportunity to pick up wins in Games 2 and 3. That remains true. However, now Game 2 becomes and absolute must-win for the Twins. They canít go down 0-2 at home and head to Yankees Stadium.
∑ Michael Cuddyer came through yet again. He hit the two run homer. He crushed a line drive on the double. Aside from that last at bat, he had a good game.
∑ Danny Valencia struck out the first two times he batted, but he then had the game-tying RBI walk and a single. He also made a nice play on defense to end an inning and strand a runner at 3B.
∑ Iíll be honest. There are some questions that I just canít answer. Ask me about a player, strategy, anyway, but I canít answer why the Twins have lost 10 straight games in the playoffs against the Yankees. Thatís not something that can be explained. It isnít the manager. Itís not the roster.† Itís not a lack of talent. The Twins havenít had homefield advantage against the Yankees in those series. They havenít had a better team in previous years. Although the Yankees team is absolutely loaded, the Twins starting lineup, top three starters and depth in the bullpen should match up with the Yankees. There are a lot of veterans.
∑ Yes, I still 100% believe that the Twins can still win this series. †
So what are your thoughts on the game and the rest of this series? Game 2 is tonight at about 5:07. Leave your comments here.