It's difficult to avoid writing in tired old cliches when you write about sports. Though I'm acutely aware of this problem, I fall prey to the same old descriptions as much as the next guy. For example, how many times have you read, "The Yankees won in dramatic fashion," this season? It may accurate, but after a while, it comes across as dull, unimaginative writing. Which is a shame because what you are trying to describe is anything but dull. So at the risk of being redundant, the Yankees actually did win in dramaticfashionlast night, beating the Twins with two runs in the bottom of the 12th inning to tie the ALDS at one game apiece. Derek Jeter, who cranked a long home run into the center field black in the first inning, scored the winning run on Hideki Matsui's line-drive sacrifice fly, while Jacque Jones' throw from right field inexplicably went to the cut-off man and not through to the catcher. Mariano Rivera blew a save and Alex Rodriguez was the offensive hero. But Tanyon Sturtze and Derek Jeter came up with major contributions too.
The Twins scored early off of Yankee starter Jon Lieber; an RBI double by Justin Morneau in the first, followd by an RBI single by Michael Cuddyer and a sacrifice fly by Henry Blanco in the second. Once again, Minnesota's speed was on display and they ran the bases shrewdly. New York tied the score at three in the bottom of the third when the slumping Gary Sheffield nailed a line drive, two-run homer into the left field seats. Jon Lieber settled down and with the Yankees swinging at Brad Radke's first pitch with regularity in the middle innings, the game sailed along.
Alex Rodriguez hit a towering solo dinger in the fifth and then dumped a soft RBI single to left in the seventh scoring Miguel Cairo (who had walked and was sacrificed to second by Jeter). Three hits and two RBI for Rodriguez, a two-run lead for the Yankees and all looked fine in the Bronx. Tom Gordon replaced Lieber with two out in the seventh and got pinch-hitter Jose Offerman to line out to Miguel Cairo.
Shannon Stewart worked the count full to lead off the eighth before lining out sharply to Sheffield in right. Next, Gordon struck out Jacque Jones on a nasty curve ball in the dirt. The ball got away from Posada and Jones reached first. Oh, shades of Mickey Owens. Torii Hunter followed and smacked a liner to Bernie in center; Jones held up at second. That was it for Flash as Torre brought in Mariano Rivera. I got a call from Rich Lederer at that moment and he first-guessed Torre's move, believing that Gordon could work out of the jam. I saw that Stewart and Hunter hit the ball hard so I wasn't upset to see Rivera in the game.
After the fact, Joe Morgan, the color man on ESPN's broadcast, wondered if Rivera had had enough time to warm up. Justin Mourneau blooped a single to right scoring Jones and putting runners on the corners with just one out. Rivera got ahead of Corey Koskie but the veteran third baseman worked the count full. Morgan commented that Rivera was going for the strike out, as he threw more fastballs than cutters. Luis Rivas was brought in to pinch-run for Mourneau. Sure enough on the 3-2 pitch, Rivera went with a fastball on the outside corner instead of busting Koskie inside with the cutter. Koskie slapped a line drive down the left field line for a grounds rule double. It was a rare mistake for Rivera, who blew only his third save in 33 post-season opportunities.
Fortunately for New York, Rivas wasn't allowed to score. Rivera struck out the rookie Jason Kubel easily and ended the inning by getting Christian Guzman to ground out. The Stadium was shocked. I know I was silent, sitting on my living room floor enveloped by a sense of dread. The bullpen was now on for the Twins and they were outstanding. Rivera was much sharper in the ninth working a one-two-three inning. But he was replaced by Taynon Sturtze when the game went to extra innings and shoot, as good as he's been of late, anything was bound to happen then.
Minnesota's bullpen didn't allow a base runner from the eighth inning until Miguel Cairo walked with one out in the bottom of the 12th. Sturtze was solid again for the Yanks until Torii Hunter launched a two-out solo bomb into the night giving the Twins a 6-5 lead in the top of the inning. Awww, nertz. There it is. Memories of Jeff Weaver in last year's Serious. (Actually, that's not entirely fair as Sturtze really did perform well.)
Joe Nathan buzzed through the the 10th and 11th innings and was brought out for a third stint in the 12th. Minnesota's options were limited, and Ron Gardenhire felt that he needed to go for the juggular with his closer. John Olerud whiffed on a check swing to open the inning but Nathan walked Cairo and then Jeter. Rodriguez saw a ball, patiently took a strike and then cranked a fly ball into what used-to-be-known as Death Valley. Rodriguez thought he had a game-winning homer. I thought Shannon Stewart was going to track it down and make the catch, but the ball fell between Stewart and the wall, falling in for another grounds rule double. Cairo scored the tying run.
Now, the Twins were really in a fix. They walked Sheffield and brought in the soutpaw J.C. Romero to pitch to Hideki Matusi. The infield was positioned at double-play depth but the outfield was playing in. Godzilla jumped on the first pitch, which under normal circumstances would have likely gone for a single. It was a low, line-drive hit right at Jones. No way Jeter could score I'm thinking. But he didn't stray far off the base and he tagged. Perhaps Jones didn't believe that Jeter would try to score because he threw the ball to first baseman Matt LeCroy. Jeter slid home with the winning run and the Yankee stadium crowd, which had been up-and-down like a yo-yo all evening, erupted with cheers. Finally, relief!
Had the Yankees lost, they would have been in some spot. Now, the series is even. Game Three becomes critical with Johan Santana penciled in for a Game Four start at the Metrodome. But before I get ahead of myself, let's soak in yet another exhilerating come-from-behind victory by the Yanks, a team that proved once again to be one tough out.