Friday, October 9, 2009

Yankees Take Commanding 2-0 Lead

A-Rod, Tex Rock the Bronx

Written for Baseball Digest Online

The Minnesota Twins have been this road before. Take a lead at the new Yankee Stadium, blow the lead late, and then watch as the New York Yankees celebrate a victory with pie ala A.J.. Tonight, the script played out to perfection with the added “bonus” of a blown call by the men in blue.

Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th, Mark Teixeira reached base with his first hit of the series. Alex Rodriguez then hit a deep drive off Twins’ closer Joe Nathan that landed well beyond the fence in center field for a game tying home run. Seconds after the ball left his bat, A-Rod looked over at his teammates and pumped his fist. It was a “jump on my back boys” moment for a player who won’t be hearing about post-season slumps any time soon. Oh, and A-Rod drove in the Yankees first run too.

Then after escaping a bases loaded, no out jam in the top of the 11th, the Yankees celebration began when Teixeira hit a bullet off left-hander Jose Mijares down towards the left field corner. The ball hit the top of the wall and ricocheted into the stands for a game winning homer. And yes, A.J. delivered hiscompensatory pie.

The victory ended a wild night at the new digs and put the Yankees up a commanding two games to none in the best of five series. Starters A.J. Burnett and Nick Blackburn got into a good ol’ fashioned pitcher’s duel before the Twins broke a scoreless tie in the 6th. Burnett, who walked five on the night, issued a one out free pass to Delmon Young, who stole 2nd base as Carlos Gomez struck out for the second out of the inning.

Ron Gardenhire sent light hitting Brendan Harris up to pinch-hit for Matt Tolbert, who had to leave the game with a strained oblique. Harris came through with a deep drive to left-center that eluded Johnny Damon and then caromed past Melky Cabrera for an RBI triple. Burnett got out of further trouble by getting Nick Punto to ground out to end the inning.

The Yankees, who didn’t have a hit until Robinson Cano’s single in the 5th, came right back in the home half of the 6th. Derek Jeter reached on a one out ground rule double and Damon followed with a walk. Blackburn retired Teixiera on a pop up for the second out, but A-Rod singled to left to even the game at a run apiece.

The bottom of the Twins order had a big night and they came through in the clutch against Phil Hughes in the top of the 8th. Gomez reached on a two out walk and moved to 3rd on Harris’ single to right. Punto’s single to center put the Twins up 2-1 and knocked Hughes from the game. Denard Span showed the top of the Twins order could be productive too when the lead off man singled off of Mariano Rivera for a 3-1 Minnesota lead. Rivera kept it a two run game with a strike out of Orlando Cabrera.

Both teams blew big opportunities in the game due to base running mistakes. Burnett hit both Young and Gomez with two outs in the 4th and Tolbert singled to right field. But Gomez rounded 2nd base too far and Nick Swisher alertly threw behind him to an awaiting Jeter, who applied the tag before Young could score. A very “Timo Perez” moment in New York.

The Yankees had their own snafu as they appeared ready to win the game in the 10th. Jorge Posada reached on a one out single and was replaced on the bases by Brett Gardner. The Yankees top base stealing threat easily swiped 2nd base and then moved to 3rd when Nathan’s errant pick off throw sailed in center field. Gardenhire elected to walk Jeter to set up the double play and the Yankees unwittingly obliged.

Damon hit a line drive that ticked off Nathan’s glove towards Cabrera at short. Gardner misread the ball and took off for home. Cabrera snagged the line drive and easily doubled Gardner off the 3rd as the Twins finally got a break. But it was a break they couldn’t take advantage of, thanks in part to left field umpire Phil Cuzzi (pronounced Cuz-zee; and you know people in Minnesota will realize what that rhymes with).

Mauer sliced a fly ball down the left field line off of Damaso Marte and just out of the reach of Melky Cabrera, who had moved over from center field at the start of the inning. The ball clearly landed several inches in fair territory before bouncing into the stands for what should have been a ground rule double. But Cuzzi emphatically ruled it foul. Without a good angle to see it, no one from the Twins argued the call.

It seemed like it wouldn’t matter when Mauer and Jason Kubel stroked back to back singles, and David Robertson gave up another base hit to Michael Cuddyer to load the bases with no one out. But with the infield playing in, Teixiera gloved Young’s hot smash for the first out. Gomez then swung at the first pitch, as did Young, and grounded to Teixeira, who threw home for the force out. Robertson and the Yankees were then able to breath again when Harris flew out to Gardner in center field for the final out of the inning.

And then the players took their roles and Yankees Stadium witnessed its’ 16th walk-off victory of the season.

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