In this 2009 American League Division Series, we saw two teams go head to head in the playoffs. They were both such contrasting teams– the Minnesota Twins, one of the more small-market franchises in the game today– facing the New York Yankees, who are quite possibly the most successful franchise in the history of American sports. The Minnesota Twins play a smallball, hit-and-run, sacrifice bunt and speed game– the New York Yankees play an all around power game to go with good defense. Some sports journalists called it the biggest mismatch in years, as the Yanks were favored almost nationwide.
The Yankees took the field with a solid combination of abundant talent, great chemistry, and a good amount of experience. The Twins took the field with youth, decent talent, momentum from a great month of September, and a whole lot of heart. The Yankees swept the regular season series 7-0 and took on Minnesota hoping to reach the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2004, where the Boston Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit and won 4 straight to break the hearts of the Bombers.
Here is a recap of the Twins-Yankees clash.
Game 1: I Don’t Fear Twinkies, I Eat Them
There was a buzz in the crowd on a Bronx night as for the first time, we got the oppurtunity to see how postseason baseball would look in the new Yankee Stadium. It turned out to not be a disappointing night for the fans cheering on the Yanks.
The matchup favored the Yankees quite overwhelmingly; the highest paid pitcher in the history of the MLB, 19 game winner and ace of the Yankees, CC Sabathia took the hill. Facing him would be a mere rookie southpaw for the Twins, Brian Duensing, who had some pretty good success down the stretch for Minnesota as they made their playoff push.
After two shutout innings on both sides of the ball, the Twins surprised the Yankees with a 2 run 3rd inning highlighted by a passed ball by catcher Jorge Posada. For a brief moment, Yankees fans across the world held their breath, as they were reminded of 2007 when Cleveland took an early lead in the ALDS and never looked back.
This was not to happen tonight.
In the bottom of that same 3rd inning, the captain and shortstop Derek Jeter, who had a stellar year as the leadoff hitter for the Yanks, launched a home run into the left field stands. From then on, the Twins never stood a chance.
Nick Swisher hit a run-scoring double to give the Yankees a lead in the next inning, and the Bombers continued to pile on, as they won by the final score of 7-2.
The real highlight of this ballgame, however, was Alex Rodriguez. Constantly criticized for his lack of offensive contributions during the playoffs, A-Rod drove in two runs and had two base hits. This set the tempo for the rest of the series.
Game 2: He Got Him, John, He Got Him
Following a day of rest, the Yankees and the Twins took the field for ALDS Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. You could, for some reason, feel that it was going to be an eventful baseball game. However, nobody could have predicted just how thrilling it would turn out to be.
Minnesota’s sinkerballing Nick Blackburn took the hill against hard throwing right hander A.J. Burnett. For the first 5 innings, both starters engaged in an awesome pitcher’s duel, as neither team was able to get on the board. In one inning, the Twins nearly scored on an RBI single; however, Carlos Gomez slipped rounding 2nd, and was tagged out retreating to 2nd base before Delmon Young could score. It remained scoreless. The Twins scored in the top of the 6th, but the Yankees tied it up in the bottom half of that 6th inning.
After a scoreless 7th, Minnesota shocked lights out setup reliever Phil Hughes, scoring two runs off him (the latter coming off a single on the great Mariano Rivera). That gave them a 3-1 lead over the Yankees, and it seemed like the little team from Minneapolis, Minnesota would pull off a shocking late inning upset. That would be disastrous for the Yankees. It would tie up the series, as opposed to the large advantage of being up 2-0. It would send the Twins back to Minnesota, where they play so much better, with a highly motivating victory. In short, it would be an enormous momentum change for the Twins.
But that wasn’t how the Yankees rolled.
After a shutout inning by Rivera in the top of the 9th, the Bombers headed into the bottom of the 9th inning needing to score two runs to tie the game. Their problem? They had to face the tremendous closer of the Twins, Joe Nathan. However, the Yankees had the most comebacks in the league in ’09, and with their 3, 4 and 5 hitters due up against him, there was certainly a good amount of confidence in that Yankees dugout.
The MVP candidate, switch hitting slugger and first baseman Mark Teixeira stepped up to lead off. He delivered with a hard hit single to right field, and up came A-Rod.
Alex Rodriguez wasn’t supposed to be clutch.
Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be this headcase who couldn’t deliver in the playoffs.
Alex Rodriguez wasn’t supposed to deliver hits when the New York Yankees needed him to.
He certainly did on October 9th of 2009.
After taking 3 straight pitches out of the strike zone, Joe Nathan tossed a sinker down and in to Alex Rodriguez that possibly was out of the strike zone, but there was no argument from Rodriguez.
Joe Nathan’s 3-1 pitch was in a location everybody knows you can’t throw it in with Alex Rodriguez at the plate. A-Rod showed Nathan why.
With one elegant, swift swing of A-Rod’s shining black bat, that baseball was launched about as far as you’ll see. It soared in the night sky and landed into the Yankees’ bullpen.
“He got him, John, he got him!” shouted a grieving Dan Gladden, analyst for the Twins radio.
A-Rod knew it. He turned to the dugout and gave a little fist pump as he flipped his bat. All of a sudden, this game was no longer a dramatic upset. All of a sudden, this game was tied by the score of 3-3.
Yet, even though the game seemed so destined to end in a Yankees victory, the Twins were not going to let go. They got out of that inning, and in the bottom of the 10th inning, Johnny Damon stepped to the plate with 1 out and runners on the corners. With the count full at 3-2, Damon lined out to shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who alertly fired to third base, where rookie Brett Gardner was leaning much too far off and was doubled off. It was a traumatizing play for the Yankees, and an inspiring play for the Twins. In the top of the 11th inning, with Damaso Marte, the hard throwing Dominican left hander on the mound, Joe Mauer lined a ball into the left field corner that the umpire called foul.
But was it foul?
Clearly, as all the camera angles TBS provided show, it was a fair ball and a double for the AL batting champion Joe Mauer. It seemed miniscule after Mauer lined a ball into center field for a single; but it would turn out to be a gigantic break for the Yankees. The next runner reached base. Marte was out. Mauer had held up at third on a single off of new Yankees reliever, the strikeout specialist David Robertson. With the bases full of Twins and no outs, it would be a perfect situation for Robertson to get a strikeout. He didn’t get a strikeout; regardless, Robertson’s performance will make him forever appreciated by the Yankees fans.
Delmon Young lined a curveball to Mark Teixeira’s glove at first base. One out.
Carlos Gomez hit a fairly soft ground ball to Teixeira, who fired to Francisco Cervelli at home plate. Two outs.
Brendan Harris swung at a 92-mph fastball and flew out to Gardner in center field. Three outs.
They didn’t score a run with the bases loaded.
You can’t do that. Not against the Yankees.
Mark Teixeira, now swinging the bat right handed, crushed a line drive into the left field corner on a 2-1 count. It had a chance to go out. Would it? Would it?
It hit off the seats in the first row and caromed deeper into the stands. A wall clearing home run ended the extra inning affair, giving the Yanks a 4-3 win over the Twins and a 2-0 series advantage.
You’re on the Mark, Teixeira.
Game 3: Jumped
Needing only one game to make it to the American League Championship Series for the first time since ’04, the New York Yankees put on their road uniforms and took on the Twins at the Metrodome. It was the Metrodome’s last year hosting Major League Baseball games, and the Minnesota Twins did not want it’s history and nostalgia to end in an ALDS loss to the big, fancy Yankees. Win one for the Dome, that’s all that Twins fans were asking. Minnesota would send Carl Pavano to the mound.
Carl Pavano was signed to a big money deal by the Yankees a few years back, but he was plagued by so many injuries that he could never pitch all that much. He had less starts in 3 seasons in Pinstripes than a decent starter has in a year. Moreover, none of those games he pitched really got the job done. It was one big waste of money by the Bombers organization, and thus, a great amount of Yankees fans hate him with a passion not matched even when we saw George W. Bush get a couple zapatos in his direction.
Thus, he took the mound against the Yankees in Game 3 with a lot to prove. And he did his job and then some.
He didn’t allow any runs in the first six innings of the ballgame, putting together sharp movement, great command and a couple of questionable calls by the home plate umpire. However, Andy Pettitte was not to be shown up. He hurled 5 shutout innings until the 6th, when the aforementioned AL batting champion(for the 3rd time, nonetheless) Joe Mauer did what batting champions do, which is hit. He wrapped a single to the opposite field that plated speedy Denard Span. It was 1-0 Twins! Finally, the Minnesota Twins came up with run support off Andy Pettitte to support Carl Pavano’s stellar outing.
Now all he had to do was hold that lead. But of course he was going to hold that lead. He had been pitching so perfectly, so masterfully against this terrifyingly good Yankees lineup. All the stars had alligned for Pavano tonight.
You can see where this is going, right?
Of course, the ever-so-powerful Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate with one out. He had just hit a long, dramatic, game-tying big fly last game! And he did it again. With a 3-2 count against Pavano, he took a tailing fastball away on the ride of it’s lifetime, sending it way up over the baggie to tie it at 1.
The Yanks were not done yet, as you can imagine. Later in that inning, veteran catcher Jorge Posada– often criticized(by me) for his lacking defense– bombs one into left. It’s baffling. They hadn’t scored all night, they looked flat. And then they decide, in the 7th inning, after the Twins score a dramatic run, they just say “*yawn* mmkay, home run. Another home run. When is this game gonna end? I’m hungry.”
In the 8th inning, the Yankees had a 2-1 edge over the Twins, but it was certainly surmountable for a never-say-die Twins team. After all, they still had talent, they could still execute what they needed to execute, and they had the tremendous lift of being at home, where they play so much better. And they started to rally in that 8th inning. But on a chopper up the middle hit by Denard Span that turned out to be an infield single, something strange happened to the Twins that sucked the life out of them. Nick Punto thought that the ball had gotten into center field and was surging home to try and score. But Jeter had fielded the ball. Nick Punto didn’t see that, nor did he pick up his third base coach pleading him to stay put at third base. Jeter fired home. Punto, halfway to home plate, was hung up and scurried back to third. Posada gunned the ball to A-Rod at third base, who applied the tag, and Punto was dead meat.
The play that ended the Metrodome. Not technically, but momentum wise. The rally was their last chance at a late inning upset and comeback over the Yankees. But with one clumsy baserunning mistake, that rally was over. They would now have to deal with Rivera in the ninth.
The Yanks would tack on some insurance, and then, in the bottom of the 9th, Mo Rivera would close out another game, sending the New York Yankees to the postseason for the first time since 2004 against the Red Sox.
This series might have been boring, pointless and disappointing for baseball fans who enjoy seeing the little guy pull through and win. For guys who like the David beats Goliath philosophy, this might have been saddening. I understand why you would like that kind of thing; God bless and go forward.
But if you’re a Yankee fan, that was sweeter than apple pie.
See you in the ALCS.
Stay positive, Yankee fans.
-EJ the Kid From New York