October 7, 2010

ALDS Game 1: Yankees 6, Twins 4

Sigh.

Everything was perfect last night, except for that damn final score. I arrived at the jam-packed Kiernan's Irish Pub in time to see the final three innings of Roy Halladay's no-hitter, eventually made my way to fantastic Target Field seats just past third base, sat in gorgeous weather at a ballpark that was absolutely rocking ... and drove home depressed after watching a story that I've seen too many times before.

Some disjointed notes on another gut-wrenching playoff loss to the Yankees ...

• I didn't like Orlando Hudson bunting after Denard Span singled to lead off the game, just as I didn't like the various times when that situation played out the same way in previous playoff games against the Yankees. Giving up an out and playing for one run just doesn't make much sense when you're facing such a potent lineup. With that said, it's ultimately a pretty marginal situation strategically and I didn't have any major issues with the in-game tactics.

• On the other hand, I thought Joe Girardi did the Twins a favor several times with his bullpen management, first by leaving CC Sabathia in despite having David Robertson all warmed up in the sixth inning and then by using Boone Logan in a way that led to Jim Thome coming to the plate as the go-ahead run versus a righty. Sabathia wriggled out of his jam with the game still tied and Thome struck out, but Girardi's moves in those spots were questionable at best.

Francisco Liriano was thisclose to out-dueling Sabathia and putting together a great playoff debut, cruising through five very impressive innings, but things unraveled in the sixth inning. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada doing some damage is far from surprising, but Curtis Granderson tripling off the wall in right-center field was shocking given his career-long struggles against lefties and Liriano's dominance against lefties.

Jesse Crain was knocked around in his final appearance of the regular season Friday, giving up four runs against the Blue Jays, but prior to that he had a 1.06 ERA and .171 opponents' batting average in 51 innings spread over his previous 54 appearances. Perhaps his ugly end to the regular season was a sign that he'd serve up a back-breaking homer to Teixeira, but it would be crazy to not trust a guy who had one bad game following four months of dominance.

• Hudson has made his share of head-scratching plays on both sides of the ball all season, but his going from first to third on Joe Mauer's third-inning squibber showed a ton of smarts and hustle. And it ultimately led to a run.

• In the seventh inning Mauer slashed a line drive into the foul territory along the left-field line and a guy sitting in the row in front of me reached out and snatched it out of the air with his bare hand as if he were catching a set of car keys someone had tossed him underhanded. It sounded like a cross between a gun shot and slapping a slab of meat, yet when asked a few minutes later if it hurt his response was simply: "A little bit."

• Pinch-running for both Jason Kubel and Danny Valencia in the eighth inning is an example of over-managing. Kubel wasn't even the tying run and Valencia is certainly fast enough to run for himself. And if the Twins were going to win the game there was a good chance those two spots in the batting order would come up again, at which point Jason Repko and Matt Tolbert are hitting. A huge deal? No, but needlessly finicky.

• Thome has been so amazing that it felt weird to see him fail to come through in a couple big spots. He struck out on a ball in the dirt with two men on in the seventh inning and popped up to end the game after the umpires gifted the Twins a 28th out. J.J. Hardy also came up empty in two key spots, including whiffing off an incredibly wobbly Sabathia with the bases loaded. They weren't short on chances, but the Twins went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

• Tonight's matchup: Andy Pettitte (129 IP, 4.05 xFIP) vs. Carl Pavano (221 IP, 4.01 xFIP)

  • Pat

    different season, same dang results..sigh..now I know how the Brooklyn Dodgers felt

  • festivus

    that was a sweet game… until the 6th.

  • Adam S.

    Man we battled though, very solid at-bats up and down the lineup, made them work to get every out (well almost). Just came up short, it will happen. If we keep playing like this I like our chances to take the game today and win 1 in NY (hopefully game 3 cuz CC goes game 4). Then its back here for Game5 which we WILL win. Twins over Phillies in WS!!!!!

  • Pat

    Adam, you are a dreamer. Same old story line for the Twins, unfortunately..3 game sweep..can’t fight the ghosts.

  • Kurt

    Aaron – I disagree that Giaradi gifted us anything from his bullpen management. Robertson predictably K’s Thome even though it was righty lety matchup favoring Thome. Thome saw one power fastball which was outside on the very first pitch, then saw nothing but junk breaking stuff in the dirt which of course K’d him. The Yankees just get it. If you’re a righty, don’t Matt Thornton that thing middle in, throw off speed stuff ahead in the count. Again, the Yanks just get it.

  • theOW

    These guys are done. Toast. I am sickened by these continual losses – all in the same manner. The Twins have had the lead in the last 7 losses to these guys at some point in the game Absolutely NO WAY can they beat the Yanks 3 out of 4, needing to get one win in the Bronx.
    GREAT analysis, Aaron. This loss cannot be pinned on Gardy. The next 2, maybe, but not last night.
    Has Jesse Crain thrown his last pitch for us?

  • mike wants WINS

    At the end of six, all I could think was: thank goodness we didn’t trade Aaron Hicks for Cliff Lee. Hicks was awesome last nite…..

    Same old, same old.

    They can beat the bad/mediocre teams, but they are not in the big boy league.

  • ganderson

    “Dad, why is the coffee table halfway agross the room?”

  • Ryan M.

    Crain was the right guy to bring in, but it’s been pretty apparent from his last couple of outings that he’s lost (or misplaced, if you will) the feel for his devastating slider — he tried to throw one to Texiera on 2-2 and couldn’t get it over, then hung an absolutely terrible one on 3-2.

    Without that slider working, Crain is… well, he’s the old Jesse Crain.

  • mike wants WINS

    What are TEx’s numbers as a RH vs as a LH?

  • http://www.jmichaelward.com Jeremy

    It’s frustrating to see them lose again (and to watch another 4+ hour Yankee marathon – seriously, if I have to watch Jeter call time to step out of the box once more…), but it’s more frustrating to say “they’re done” when they’ve lost just one game. People give up on this team way too easily.

    That said, Aaron, I think you sure set the table yesterday when you talked about Girardi’s switch to lefties in four games out of five in this series. I think the Twins have still got a decent chance to win this, but they’re going to have to overcome their weakness against lefties to do it. I’m not really worried about anything until Blackburn takes the mound.

  • jimbo92107

    Crain screwed up by leaving a slider up, but I do not get the horrible vibe that I did when Mijares started choking last year. He’ll do better next time. Meanwhile, Brian Fuentes looked very good.

    In fact, this is not a fatally flawed team that cannot possibly beat the Yankees. Last night’s game was tight and mostly well played by both sides, but the Yankees won. If the Twins sharpen up their game just a little, they can beat the Yankees.

  • Scott

    Did anyone else think that Crawford’s strike zone was wildly inconsistent? In my opinion he failed to establish a zone, and it changed several at bats through the course of the game including that Crain-Teixeira match up. Crain threw a fastball on the first pitch of the at bat that was almost down the middle of the plate and it was called a ball. That changes Crain’s strategy completely.

    Now I’m not trying to blame Crawford for the loss in any way, because the Twins had their chances. It is just frustrating when an umpire cannot be consistent.

  • Algonad

    Twins fans just drive me nuts, sometimes. It was one loss against a good team. If you’re ready to give up, just give up and go away. No reason for you to watch the games if the series is already over.

  • mike wants WINS

    Right, everyone should react emotionally the same way.

  • BR

    Observation #1: I was pretty aggravated with the Granderson triple. I know the stats. But you also have to actually watch the game. Granderson ripped a one-hop liner to Cuddyer in his first at bat against Liriano, right after I mentioned the stats to my son. “Oops,” I thought. “Liriano didn’t fool him with that pitch.” Then comes the 6th, Liriano is faltering, he’s at 104 pitches iirc, and Granderson’s coming back up. Bring in Mijares, I say. Still a lefty, but a different look, and Liriano looks done. Nope. Gardy tries to squeeze one more out from #47. Playoff exits are littered with managers trying to squeeze one more out from a guy who’s done.

    Observation #2: Agree with AG on the pinch running. Even my 11 year old questioned this move aloud. “He’s not even the tying run. What if we do into extra innings?”

    Observation #3: Another agreement with AG. Bunting in the 1st inning is stupid. So stupid that, if I were GM, I’d make it abundantly clear that there are certain “strategic” decisions that are firable offenses. That’s one of them. You got the managerial itch right off the bat? Then hit and run. You don’t give away outs when you don’t have to.

  • Mark

    So now we know how White Sox fans feel when the Twins play the Sox. In the fifth inning the cameras showed ARod in the Yanke dugout, He was so focused, I just got the feeling on impending doom. The right thing to do was probably not give the Yankees a third go at Liariano.

  • Jason

    Should Francisco been pulled a little earlier? Would like y’all’s thoughts.

  • mike wants WINS

    I would have left Liriano in. He’s their best pitcher. I’d have considered taking him out, but I think I would have stuck with him if I was in Gardy’s shoes.

    IF it was a sacrifice bunt, I hate it. IF it was an attempt to get a hit, I’m cool with the thought, if not the execution.

  • liner

    I’m not ready to give up on these guys. It was an enjoyable and well played game to watch, I think. A tough 6th inning, but that’s baseball.
    The most frustrating thing for me was Mauer…watching him take a first pitch strike right down the middle and then flail at two pitches out of the zone in two strikeouts was unbearable. I mean, if he’s so good at taking pitches, why didn’t he? Or swing at the big cookie he’s given. He’s got to make some things happen in this series if we have any chance…

  • 0_for_7

    This game sapped what was left of my resolve. I’ve watched 163 Twins games this year; not sure if I’ll make 164.

  • Andy

    Well at least Mauer isn’t leaving.

  • longtimefan

    The 0hfer seven with men on base is the tale of the tape. The complex strike zone is a close 2nd. It wasn’t completely one-sided, but nearly, and all it takes is one at bat with men on base. More frustrating to watch then… time-out; step-out, maybe.

  • Art

    Can anyone imagine winning in 87 or 91 without Puckett? Well, we are asking this team to win without Mourneau whose absence can be covered up during a long regular season but whose presence in the line-up is desperately needed in the play-offs. Are the Twins cooked? I don’t think so, but someone has to do more than contribute, someone has to become a star. That means getting a big hit with two outs and men on.

  • Anare

    I agree with liner, Mauer was a disappointment last night. I think we were expecting him to take it up a notch and instead we got the same old thing. If pitchers have him figured out and are pitching tightly to him he needs to adjust. Isn’t that what good ballplayers do? Am I missing something here? Mauer is known for having such a keen eye yet he never swings at the first pitch and he does the same thing every time, takes a strike right down the middle. He has beautiful posture and a perfect swing but is he never going to get scrappy or adjust for the tight pitching? Seriously fans, if I am totally off the mark here please correct me.

  • Shear

    The winner of Game 1 is 12-0 in the Division Series the last three years. 21-3 since 2004.
    That’s a tough pill to swallow.

  • http://www.jmichaelward.com Jeremy

    Shear, I’ll counter that by saying that the Yankees have never advanced past the ALDS as a Wild Card team.

    Things happen. Things don’t. Trends, schmends.

    I also don’t understand why everyone’s on Mauer about this – he only had one at-bat with runners in scoring position, and only two baserunners ahead of him all night. Hudson’s heads-up play during Mauer’s 2nd at-bat manufactured a run, too.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I don’t know why everyone is defending Gardy for leaving Liriano in too long. I felt like I was watching Grady Little leaving Pedro Martinez out too long in 2003.

    When a guy is pitching well and suddenly starts losing it in the middle innings, that’s a clue that he needs to come out. Don’t look at the pitch count. Don’t look at the innings. Look at how he is pitching relative to how he has pitched the rest of the game. Gardy misuses the pitch count not just in pulling guys with high counts who are pitching well, but in keeping guys in because they have pitches left and haven’t gotten lit up.

    Was Gardy leaving Lirano in to face Granderson indefensible? No, probably not. But it ultimately was the wrong decision. Do you know what makes a great manager? Not getting that decision wrong. Making all the right decisions in key spots.

  • Martin

    On the blog about leaving Lirano, in if the ump called the balls and strikes consistenly between sides he would have been out before the hit.

    Do you really think that MLB will let the twins win a close one come on the Yankees moving on is worth millions to MLB.

    Twins pitchers strike zone postage stamp.
    Yankees pitchers strike the big house.

  • Ewen21

    @Martin,

    Actually I think the umps were consistently bad to both teams according to the information posted by Gleeman. The Twins are losing for multiple reasons and I would have to say that is one of the minor ones.