Slow going against AJ Burnett through 6 innings. But Scott Baker had a sensational strikeout night (9 K in 6 IP) to help him pitch around some insanely poor fortune on batted balls - the Yanks were 10 for 18 on balls in play. The Twins got a couple of big RBI hits from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the top of the 7th, and took a 4-3 lead into the bottom half.
Baker had a QS in his pocket and was approaching 100 pitches, but I like the decision to leave him in against hitters 9-1-2 in the Yankee lineup. Unfortunately, Francisco Cervelli led off with an IF H, then Derek Jeter got a 2B off of Baker's leg. Gardy tabbed Brian Duensing to face lefty Brett Gardner, and he got him on a shallow fly to keep the runners at 2nd and 3rd.
The next move forced Gardy to choose between two bad options: face the red-hot Mark Teixeira with 2 RISP, or put him on to load the bases for A-Rod, hoping for a DP. The way things have gone against A-Rod over his career vs. the Twins, I was hoping for option 1. Teixeira hasn't been very good against RHP yet, so maybe you let Matt Guerrier pitch to him, put A-Rod on 1st, then bring in Ron Mahay to face Robinson Cano. That might not have worked either, but it's what I would have preferred. Anyway, A-Rod lifted Guerrier's 2nd pitch over the wall left center for a GS. Same old, same old.
Twins 1, Yankees 7
I'll sum up this game by comparing a couple of batted balls from each team during the first 2 innings. Denard Span led off with a sinking liner to CF. Gardner came rushing in and laid out for a tumbling catch. I looked at three different slo-mo angles, and didn't find that any of them conclusively showed leather between the ball and the grass. That's how close that was to being a leadoff hit. Jeter, meanwhile, led off the game for the Yanks with a liner right past Francisco Liriano for a single and came around to score the game's first run.
In the 2nd, with a RISP and 2 out, Brendan Harris hit a liner back at the pitcher. It went straight into Andy Pettitte's glove for the last out of the inning. In the bottom half, with a RISP and 2 out, Jeter hit a sinking liner off the end of the bat that fell in front of Michael Cuddyer for an RBI single. Like Baker the night before, Liriano had a terrific K/BB ratio (7/0), though he allowed a costly HBP on an 0-2 pitch. But the Yanks managed to go 9 for 20 against him on balls in play.
It was still good enough for a QS, but this time Gardy went to the bullpen to start the 7th. Same result. Within 5 batters, the Yanks had put up a 4-spot, and the game was out of reach. The Twins eventually got a run off the Yankee bullpen, but Pettitte was able to shut the Twins out through 6.1 IP on just 2 H and 2 K. The Twins were 2 for 19 on balls in play vs. Pettitte. Phooey.
Twins 6, Yankees 3
Seemingly more of the same in the finale as would-be RBI H from the Twins caromed off the pitcher and were converted into outs, or went straight to the glove of Jeter for inning-ending DPs. Nick Blackburn continued the string of QS, walking just 1 but allowing 3 ER on 9 H through 7 IP. But the Twins trailed 3-1, and with Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera lined up to pitch the 8th and 9th, there wasn't much reason to hope that this game would have a happy ending.
The magic moment came with 2 outs in the 8th. Michael hit another liner with 2 men on, but this one hit the heel of Teixeira's glove and bounced away for an IF H, loading the bases. Rivera came in to face Jim Thome. He fell behind 3-0, and Thome got the benefit of a close call on 3-2 for a bases loaded walk. Don't like that, Yankees fans? Well, the 3-2 pitch to Morneau in the 6th was definitely a ball, and he was called out. So, it evened out. Jason Kubel came up next and ripped the first strike he saw into the short porch in RF for a GS. At last, a big hit with the bases loaded! And it came off Rivera! In Yankee Stadium! So many demons were exorcised with that swing.
To top it off, the Yankees got the 8th and 9th hitters on to start the bottom of the 9th, but Jon Rauch recovered to strike out Jeter, Gardner and Teixeira in succession to save the game. The only thing that could have been more poetic would have been a game-ending strikeout of A-Rod. But let's not push our luck.
Incredibly, a series that was for 25 innings a teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling frustration ended with elation. The Twins players could float out of Yankee Stadium on a cloud - I certainly felt great. Did we really expect to win 2 out of 3 there? Nobody else has. Big deal - they'll stick it to 'em at Target Field next week. The Twins dropped that series, but it kind of feels like they won it.
- Kyle Gibson made his AA debut on Saturday, and it went pretty well: 7.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K. A couple more of those and he'll be in AAA by July.
- Danny Valencia has gone off with the bat. He's got a 16-game hitting streak, and has raised his season line to .305/.343/.405. No HR yet, but a team-leading 13 2B.
- Trevor Plouffe has been perhaps Rochester's most impressive hitter. He's been consistent all spring, and is sitting at .300/.369/.479. If the Twins decide to stick with JJ Hardy beyond this year, Plouffe could be making himself into a valuable trade asset.