Today the Yankees beat the Twins, 6-5 in eleven innings, and will now meet the Red Sox in the Bronx on Tuesday to kick off the ALCS (and I celebrated the fact that my first round predictions all look pretty good for the first time ever). Again Alex Rodriguez was the hero, scoring a run single-handedly in the top of the eleventh with a double, stolen base, and a run scored on a wild pitch. Also, Ruben Sierra jump-started the Yankee offense with a three-run homer in the eighth to cap a four-run inning and tie the score at 5-5.
But before we celebrate the Yankee heroes, we should remember the Twin mistakes that helped the Yankees get back into and to win this game. Maybe that is a celebration of the Yankees since they always seem to make fewer errors as a series progresses.
The Twins started off the game right, quickly jumping all over Javier Vazquez, but missed an opportunity to knock him out in the first. Shannon Stewart led off the bottom of the first with a single to shallow center on an 0-1 pitch. Jacque Jones then singled to deep right sending on a 2-1 pitch Stewart to third. Torii Hunter then sent an 0-2 pitch to the right field warming track which plated Stewart. Then Justin Morneau struck out on a 2-2 pitch (the seventh of the at-bat), and Jones was doubled up trying to steal second by a good throw by Jorge Posada. If the Twins had gone for the jugular, then the Yankees great comeback would have maybe been much greater.
The Twins again put pressure on Vazquez in the second but came away with nothing. Lew Ford was hit by a pitch with one out and stole second. Then Christian Guzman and Michael Cuddyer both struck out on sliders and looked very ugly doing it.
In the third, Hideki Matsui bounced a ball to right scoring Derek Jeter. Henry Blanco, who is in the game for his defense, blocked the plate without the ball. Jeter was able to take his legs out and the throw from Jones went past Blanco allowing Matsui to move to second. Blanco was charged with the error.
In the fourth after Gary Sheffield lost the Justin Morneau fly ball in the roof and they had second and third with no outs, the proceeded to score just one run. Corey Koskie art least sent a fly to left that was deep enough to score one run. But he might have been a little more patient at the plate (he hit the first pitch) and kept the rally going instead of exchanging an out for a run even though conventional thinking demands that he go for the sac fly.
The Twins finally drew blood in the fifth scoring three, two with two outs.
Esteben Loaiza came in for the sixth, and after Michael Cuddyer singled, the next batter, Henry Blanco, showed bunt on the first two pitches. The Yankees pitched out and nabbed Cuddyer at second. Blanco went on to get a single in an 11-pitch at-bat after fouling off seven straight pitches. Shannon Stewart then started off 3-0 only to foul out on what looked like ball four. Jones singled Blanco to third on the first pitch. But the rally died when Hunter fouled out on the first pitch. They could have gotten deeper into the Yankee bullpen with a 4-run lead and didn't. They played for one extra run (i.e., with the bunt) and got none.
In the seventh, Lew Ford ended the inning by getting caught stealing. The Twins had one hit (a two-out double by Jason Kubel in the eighth) in the final four innings.
Then there was the Yankee eleventh. With one out, Alex Rodriguez hit double down the third base line. He then stole third when Kyle Lohse paid him no attention. He then scored when Lohse bounced an outside pitch to the plate. (By the way, Lyons blamed Pat Borders for backhanding the pitch and even though he should have attempted to block the pitch, it bounced way in front of him and then hit off his shoulder. I don't think he could have done anything to block it.)
The last mistake that people will point to was Ron Gardenhire pulling Johan Santana after five innings and just 87 pitches. I agree that Santana looked fine in the fifth, striking out two and probably could have stayed in at least another inning or two. However, Greg Balfour, who relieved Santana, pitched two perfect innings. Rincon then came in to surrender the lead, but he had been an effective pitcher all season. One could argue that using Balfour early depleted the pen to the point where Kyle Lohse (5.34 ERA in 2004) looked like a reasonable option when the game went into extra innings. But that's a somewhat spurious argument: the Twins still had Jesse Crain and J.C. Romero available in the pen.
That said, why bring in Lohse in that situation, i.e., the game on the line, when you have credible relievers available? Why is Lohse in the bullpen to begin with? Because he didn't pitch well enough to make the rotation. If you want to use him to eat up the middle innings should the starter be pulled early, that's fine. Wasn't that the reason that they didn't put long reliever Joe Roa on the playoff roster, because they would have two starters in the pen for middle relief? When are these people going to learn that you don't want your tail-end starters coming into a game in an unusual role (for them) with the game on the line? Ddidn't Gardenhire see what happened to the Angels just the day before by using Jarrod Washburn in a tie ballgame in extra innings?