October 2, 2003

So close

For six and a half innings, the Twins hung right with the Yankees and even I, the most pessimistic fan in the history of the world, had visions of a 2-0 series lead dancing in my head.

Then Brad Radke came out in the bottom of the seventh, got ahead of Nick Johnson 1-2, and hit him in the hip with a pitch. Juan Rivera sacrificed Johnson to second base and the floodgates opened.

Radke left the game with the score tied at one and Latroy Hawkins, the hero of Game One and the man I wrote so glowingly about just two days ago, came in and immediately gave the Yankees a lead.

Alfonso Soriano pulled Hawkins' 3-2 pitch into left field, past the diving Cristian Guzman, and Johnson came around to score. 2-1 Yankees.

The next batter, Derek Jeter, hit a high-chopper to the pitcher's mound that Hawkins fielded cleanly and promptly threw over Doug Mientkiewicz's head and into the seats along the first base line. Jeter to second, Soriano to third.

Jason Giambi followed with a sharp single up the middle and just like that, the Yankees led 4-1.

It was not that Hawkins was so incredibly bad last night, just that he wasn't the same guy who dominated the Yankees in Game One. I don't know whether he just wasn't throwing as well or if the Yankees had a different approach against him or what, but they got to Hawkins and they got to him right away.

And once the Yankees get up 4-1 in the late innings, you can pretty much call it a night. Mariano Rivera came in and pitched two 1-2-3 innings, slamming the door on the Twins in Game Two.

I think there were three big storylines in Game Two:

1) Both starting pitchers were very solid.

Andy Pettitte dominated the Twins the entire night, giving up a solo-homer to Torii Hunter for the only run he surrendered in seven innings. He struck out 10 Twins, gave up just four hits and got nine ground ball outs.

Radke wasn't as dominant, but he was nearly as good, despite getting into a huge jam in the first inning. Soriano, Jeter and Giambi all blooped singles into the outfield and the Yankees had the bases loaded three batters into the bottom of the first inning. I thought for sure the game was headed for a blowout, but Radke calmly got Bernie Williams to fly out to center field (which scored a run) and then struck out both Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui swinging.

The way Radke was able to riggle out of the first inning with such minimal damage was incredibly impressive and he was basically on cruise-control after that. He set the Yankees down 1-2-3 in the second and third innings and gave up a total of just two hits after those three straight singles to start the game. It was a textbook Brad Radke start. He was far from overpowering, but he used his great changeup to keep the Yankees off-balance all night, getting them to hit weak ground balls and pop ups over and over again.

2) Hawkins was human.

Latroy was called into a tough spot and asked to do exactly what he did in Game One, which was to be untouchable, and he wasn't able to do it. Giving up the single to Soriano wasn't the end of the world, but by the time he left the game it was 4-1 and it was essentially over.

3) Hitting with runners on base.

The Twins have struggled all season long with men on base and that continued in Game Two. As good as Andy Pettitte was, they had plenty of chances to get runs on the board throughout the game and they simply couldn't get the hits they needed.

More specifically, Luis Rivas couldn't get the hits they needed.

Here is Rivas' night at the plate:

Inning     Situation               Result

1st Runner on 1B Strikeout
3rd Runner on 2B Strikeout
5th Runners on 1B & 3B Ground Out
7th Runner on 1B Fly Out

For the night, Rivas came to the plate four times and had at least one runner on base each time. He went 0-4 with two strikeouts, left a total of five men on, including two in scoring position, and was the final out of an inning three times.

Some other notes on the game...

The amount of fawning over the Yankees that went on during the broadcast was absolutely incredible. They are a great team with an extraordinary tradition, but it got nauseating listening to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver talk about how great everyone in the organization is for the entire game.

When Buck referred to the Yankees taking the lead in the seventh inning as "Yankee Magic" I almost lost my lunch. They scored three runs in the seventh inning, there was nothing "magic" about it. If the Twins had done the same, it would just be a team scoring three runs. Heck, the Twins scored two runs in the sixth inning of Game One in a much more "magical" way and I didn't hear anyone talking about "Twins Magic."

Yankee fans often wonder why the rest of the baseball world hates the Yankees so much. Their incredible success is obviously a big part of it, but I'd say what goes on during the average Yankee playoff game is probably a pretty good reason for it too.

With Andy Pettitte on the mound, Jacque Jones got the start in right field and hit fifth in the lineup, just as he had in Game One, against Mike Mussina. This is an example of one of the biggest marks against Ron Gardenhire as a manager.

He toys around with platooning during the season and at times I even started to think that he understood that some players are weak against either right-handed or left-handed pitching. But when push comes to shove, he just sticks his regular lineup out there. A lineup that not only had a guy who is horrible against left-handed pitching in it, but had him hitting fifth.

Jacque Jones had the best year of his career against left-handed pitching this season - and he hit just .269/.310/.393 against them. For his career, he is a .230/.270/.332 hitter against lefties, which is absolutely horrible. And not only can't he hit against them, he looks horrible trying. He bails out on every swing, he swings over breaking balls way out of the strike zone and jabs at fastballs right down the middle. There is simply no good reason for him to be in the lineup against a good left-handed pitcher in a playoff game, and there is definitely no reason for him to be batting fifth.

Predictably, Jones went 0-3 with a strikeout in his three at bats against Pettitte.

Immediately after the game, Joe Torre announced that David Wells will be making the Game Four start for the Yankees over the weekend. Wells is another tough lefty and I suspect Jones will once again be in the lineup against him.

Managers have many different jobs and one of the most important ones is being able to identify what their players do well and what they struggle with, and then put them into situations that maximize what they do well. Ron Gardenhire has shown, time after time, that he is simply unwilling to do that with Jacque Jones. It is impossible to know whether it made a difference in the outcome of last night's game or if it will end up making the difference in Game Four, but it certainly isn't going to help. In case you're wondering, Dustan Mohr hit .265/.348/.453 against left-handed pitching this season.

Last night was tough to take as a Twins fan, just because they were so damn close to taking a 2-0 lead in this series, heading back to the Metrodome. But I think it is important to put everything in perspective.

If someone had told me that the Twins would win one of the first two games in New York, I certainly would have been happy with that. And if things were reversed, and the Twins dropped Game One and won Game Two, I would have been happy about that too.

It's just tough being so close to a 2-0 lead and a sweep at Yankee Stadium, only to see it all slip away so quickly.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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