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ALDS Game 2: Twins at Yankees

There were so many twists and turns in this game that the only reasonable way for me to recap it is to tell it chronologically.

Let us begin with the weather, which was balmy and humid for October. With possible rain showers forecast, the fans had jackets but most were carrying them. The intense wind of game one had gone, and if anything the wind was blowing in just a bit, the big American flag beyond left field hanging limp much of the night.

The warmth added to the party atmosphere at the ballpark, where the beer was flowing freely if the people in our section of the upper deck were any indication. No one was feeling tense, except maybe the Twins.

The first seven pitches of the game were all strikes (or hit into play) before A.J. Burnett threw his first ball. He looked sharp and aggressive (except to Joe Mauer, but I get the feeling the Yankees corporate policy on Mauer is to never give him anything good to hit, so walking him sometimes is inevitable) but so did Nick Blackburn when he took the hill for Minnesota, retiring the Yankees quickly in the first. Jeter’s average was no longer a majestic 1.000.

As the innings wore on, though, and the Yankees still couldn’t manage much but pop-ups off Blackburn, Burnett’s focus began to drift. He walked the number nine hitter in the third, Nick Punto, who admittedly is a walking machine, hit back to back batters in the fourth, and walked Orlando Cabrera in the fifth. It was only an incredible heads-up play by Nick Swisher and Derek Jeter (yes, him again) after the back to back HBPs that kept the game scoreless. With two out and the two plunked men on, Michael Tolbert came to the plate and hit a line drive single to Swisher, but before Delmon Young could cross the plate and score, Swisher threw the ball to Jeter who tagged out Carlos Gomez to end the inning. Home plate umpire Chuck Meriweather signaled emphatically no play but many in the crowd were not completely sure of what they had just seen until after the inning break when the scoreboard again showed the big fat zero in the Twins score column.

Unfortunately, the Yankees had the same zero. And then Burnett’s woes continued as he walked Delmon Young with one out in the sixth. Young stole second but he struck out Carlos Gomez to bring Michael Tolbert to the plate, except it wasn’t Tolbert, it was Brendan Harris pinch hitting. Harris connected on a pitch to send it sailing. Would it be a home run? Hit the wall? Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera were converging, with Johnny slightly closer. He leaped at the wall, and it would have been an incredible circus catch if he made it. But he didn’t. RBI triple for Harris. 1-0 Twins.

The Yankees did let them have the lead for long. With Burnett having thrown over 90 pitches, Joe Girardi took catcher Jose Molina out of the game and inserted Jorge Posada to pinch hit for him to lead off the inning. Posada was ready to mash, and bashed a ball that looked like maybe it would go. But no, it was caught on the warning track in deep center. However, Jeter then did the same, the ball bouncing over the wall for a ground rule double. Johnny Damon worked a walk, and up came Mark Teixeira.

To that point, Teixeira was hitless for the postseason. Only he and Cano didn’t have hits to their credit in game one, but Cano had ripped a single in the previous inning. Teixeira had popped up twice. Could he finally solve Blackburn? No. He popped up for the third time, and I began to wonder if A-Rod just passed his postseason slump to Teix.

Speaking of A-Rod, up he now came to the plate, his back free of the monkey that had dogged him until game one, when he came through not once but twice with two out and men in scoring position. He stroked a single and Jeter scored handily to tie the game. I turned to corwin and said, “Look who finally learned not to try to do to much.”

That would be all the Yankees would get in that rally, though, as Teixeira’s woes continued. With two men on, he fouled a ball deep but just foul, that was nearly a three-run home run. Instead he popped up for the third time in the game. The Twins then took Blackburn from the game and put in a lefty (Ron Mahay) to face Matsui, who grounded out weakly.

Now it was bullpen versus bullpen. Joba came in to a warm ovation. He got two quick outs and then nibbled around Joe Mauer, who ended up smacking a single. This brought Jason Kubel to the plate. All I can really tell you about Kubel is that he is no Justin Morneau. His ineffectiveness as a cleanup hitter has meant they can pitch around Mauer, and he came to the plate with two strikeouts (and a groundout) to his name in the game already.

Girardi pulled Joba and brought in lefty Phil Coke. Who gave Kubel the hat trick, his third K.

At that point, corwin turned to me and said, “For a close game, I’m remarkably not nervous.”

“That’s because if everyone does their jobs,” I said, “You know we’ll win.”

When Phil Hughes came in to pitch the eighth, he got a wonderful moo out of the crowd. He got two quick outs, then walked Carlos Gomez. Pesky Twins. Then gave up two soft singles, the second one an RBI hit by that pesky pesky Nick Punto. 2-1 Twins.

Girardi went to Mo.

Mo gave up another soft hit, another run, and then struck out Orlando Cabrera to end the inning.

Some people in the row in front of us got up to leave after the Yankees went down one-two-three again in the bottom of the eighth. They had to go past the group of drunk college students in front of us, one of whom said to them, “You can’t leave now! You’ll miss the pie in the face!” Because, of course, if the Yankees were going to win at this point, they would have to win in walk-off fashion. And that means pie.

Mo struck out two more in the ninth,first the dangerous Mauer, and then put the Golden Sombrero on Kubel. He gave up a soft hit, but then Nick Swisher made a great catch to end the inning.

So, bottom of the ninth, down two runs, and the hitless Mark Teixeira led off the inning.

With a hit! To say the crowd went wild would be an understatement. Michael Kay apparently commented a lot on game one about how the new stadium just didn’t seem as loud as the old place. What he wasn’t taking into account was probably that the game just wasn’t as exciting as some of the ones played over there.

The tying run came to the plate in the person of Alex Rodriguez. On the hill at this point was Joe Nathan, the Twins closer, against whom the Yankees had several walk-offs already this year. Alex didn’t waste a lot of time before unloading. The moment he connected, he knew it was gone. I didn’t until I saw it bounce beyond the wall, and then I discovered that the upper deck of the new place shakes and sways just as much as the one in the old place. The rafters were shaking and vibrations were coming through my feet. The screaming didn’t stop, but did have second crescendo. After Alex had been high-fived and greeted up and down the Yankees dugout, including an earnest hug from Jeter, who said something into his ear, perhaps encouraging him to take his curtain call, A-Rod went up the steps to raise his batting helmet. Tie game, a whole new ballgame. Nathan would get the next three men out, but the save was blown in emphatic fashion.

The Twins threatened somewhat in the tenth, getting two on with two out, but then Aceves got out of it with a fly ball to right.

So in the bottom of the inning it was the next try for the Yankees to walk off. Melky grounded out, but then Posada singled, and was pulled for Brett Gardner. Gardner stole second while Jeter was at the plate. Then he went to third when they tried to pick him off second and threw the ball into the outfield. The ball didn’t go far, though, and it looked like he was sure to be out at third when he jumped up and ran. But then he slid in under the tag. Jeter was still at the plate, but now he had a man on third and one out.

At that point, the Twins elected to intentionally walk Mr. Jeter. Did I neglect to mention that Joe Nathan was still in the game at this point? It would take a miracle to get him out of the inning, just like the other day in the one-game playoff against the Tigers…

Which is what he got. Damon lined right to short, or maybe it was third, it happened so fast we didn’t even really see exactly what happened. But someone over there snagged the line drive and then ran across second, doubling off Gardner.* Poof. Rally snuffed.

So we went to the eleventh. Now the only pitchers left in the Yankees bullpen were Damaso Marte, David Robertson, and Chad Gaudin. But tomorrow is an off day, so all hands were on deck. Marte came on and gave up hits to both Mauer and Kubel. (After the game we would find out that Mauer should have had a ground rule double on a ball that was called foul, but given how gimpy he was running, I’m not convinced he would have definitely scored that inning if he had.) Girardi pulled Marte and brought in Robertson, who gave up a line drive hit that loaded the bases, so hard hit that Mauer couldn’t score.

The Yankees elected to play the infield in with bases loaded and no one out. Delmon Young came to the plate and hit a liner–right into the glove of Mark Teixeira, who was on one knee at the edge of the infield grass. One out, and no advance. Carlos Gomez then hit a grounder, and Teixeira scooped it and threw to Cervelli for the force at home. (Remember, Jorge was lifted for the pinch runner.) Two out. The infield backed up. Robertson then got a can of corn to center to end the inning.

The crowd was in full voice through all of this. For several innings we barely sat, and the crowd was so loud that our own cheers and clapping patterns were louder than the rhythms being played by the scoreboard department.

Bottom of the eleventh. And here was Mark Teixeira once again. He had at least gotten off the schnied with the clutch hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth, allowing A-Rod’s homer to tie it, but could he be the man? Or would it be A-Rod? Or Matsui?

It would be Teixeira. Facing lefty Sergio Mijares, so batting from the right side. On the second pitch he saw, he hooked a ball with a ton of topspin toward the left field line. I thought for a moment that it would be like the ball he hit in the seventh that went just foul.

But no. It was over the wall! The stadium erupted! We were already all on our feet but people jumped up and down and hugged each other, the upper deck shook like an earthquake, and we were then treated to the absolute loudest chorus of New York, New York I have ever heard. Louder than in the old place.

Mark Teixeira was treated to a pie in the face. That drunk college kid in front of us had been right.

*Correction: Damon lined to Cabrera at short who threw to Harris at third to double Gardner. Thanks, Ram Man, I was writing in the car on the way back to Boston and couldn’t look it up. And then when I posted at 5am when we arrived, I forgot to fix it.

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