The game went according to plan for the Twins. Their ace Johan Santana pitched seven shut-out innings, and the back-end of the Minnesota bullpen pitched two scoreless to finish it off. Torii Hunter made two characterisitcally deft defensive plays and the Twins scrapped together just enough offense to win. In theory, the game also went according to plan for the Yankees as well. Mike Mussina allowed two runs over seven innings; Flash Gordon pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera did the same in the ninth. The offense had a runner on base in each of the first eight innings and they racked up nine hits against Santana.
So wha' happen? Well, five, count em' five, double plays killed the home team, who were shut-out for the second consecutive time in the post-season. According to Joel Sherman:
With runners moving in the first inning, Bernie Williams struck out into a double play. The combination of Jorge Posada's slow legs and Torii Hunter's powerful arm merged to produce an improbable out at home in the second inning. Miguel Cairo failed in two sacrifice attempts in the fifth. And Ruben Sierra swung on a 2-0 pitch with two out and none on in the ninth with the Yanks down two runs.
Did we mention the Yanks produced five double plays, and went 2-for-15 with men on base, hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position?
It was a frustrating night for the Bombers and their fans. The crowd had to sit on its hands as the Yankees failed to come up with a big hit. Ruben Sierra, who hit the ball hard in his first three at-bats, hit a home run foul, which was initially called fair. The fans started to cheer and then held their breath as the umpires huddled and eventually made the proper call. Vexed again. (As an aside, the playoffs always attract a ritzy crowd in New York. Did you get a look at the corporate fatheads sitting behind home plate last night in the "rattle your jewlery" seat? It's enough to make a true-blue Yankee loyalist empathize with those who regard New York as US Steel.)
Mike Mussina pitched a good game. In fact, his stuff seemed sharper than Santana's did. But an RBI single by Yankee-killer Shannon Stewart and an opposite field solo home run by Jacques Jones was enough to do him in. He was a hard-luck loser once again. According to the Daily News:
Mussina's most glaring mistake came in the sixth inning, when Jacque Jones hit a one-out homer to left field. He said he threw the ball on the outside part of the plate and doubted that the ball would go out when it left Jones' bat.
He also suggested that he wouldn't take that pitch back, or change anything else he did last night, since it should have been good enough.
The Yankees hit the ball hard but again, failed to come through with a timely knock. Hideki Matsui had two hits, as did Alex Rodriguez. After a cheap infield single, Rodriguez stroked a line drive to center in his third at-bat and was robbed of an extra base hit by Hunter in the eighth. Gary Sheffield was 0-2 with two walks; Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were each 1-4. Give Santana credit for winning on a night when he was far from his best. There are two ways to look at the game. Either it was just bad luck on the part of the Yankees, and if they play the same way again tonight, things should fall their way, or, they squandered a golden opportunity to beat Minnesota's ace when he was vulnerable. Should they face him again, what are the chances that Santana will be off his A-game?
And as disappointing as the loss was, I don't see it as being much more than that -- a disappointment. A letdown, a lost opportunity, but hardly a demoralization. They knew what they were facing here going in, and that if they didn't beat Santana they'd have no margin for error. They've have to beat Radke twice and Silva. They can beat those guys, and they can get good pitching out of Lieber, Brown and Vazquez. But now they need it.
The Yankees are looking a huge game tonight while the Twins are playing with house money. Who would have thought that it would come down to Jon Lieber? The Bombers have lost plenty of Game One's in recent years. But they've never had such uncertainty with their pitching staff either. Big game in the Boogie Down tonight. Keep the faith and Let's go Yanks.