Indoors or outdoors, the New York Yankees still own the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs.
Mark Teixeira hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the seventh inning and the Yankees rallied to a 6-4 victory Wednesday night in Game 1 of the AL division series, the Twins’ 10th straight postseason loss.
”Game-winning homers,” Teixeira said with a wide smile on his face, ”there’s nothing better.”
Yankees ace CC Sabathia labored, but reliever David Robertson fanned Jim Thome in a key spot and Mariano Rivera got the final four outs to close another win for the defending World Series champions. The Yankees rallied from a 3-0 deficit against Francisco Liriano and improved to 10-2 against the Twins in the playoffs since 2003.
Even a blown call by the umpires – shades of the last two postseasons – that went against the Yankees with two outs in the bottom of the ninth didn’t hurt them.
”It’s just bad luck for Minnesota. We just keep fighting. That’s a great team over there. We’ve played a lot of tough games against them,” Teixeira said.
Michael Cuddyer homered, doubled and drove in two runs for the Twins, who played their first outdoor postseason game in Minnesota since 1970. They were hoping a move from the shabby Metrodome outdoors to gorgeous Target Field would turn their fortunes around, but it was more of the same against the mighty Yankees.
Game 2 is Thursday night. Carl Pavano will pitch for the Twins against Andy Pettitte.
Jorge Posada had two hits and RBI and Curtis Granderson added a two-run triple for New York, which has never won a postseason series as a wild card.
Rivera recorded his 40th career postseason saves in 45 chances, but had to work a little harder than he planned. Replays showed Yankees right fielder Greg Golson – inserted that inning for defensive purposes – caught Delmon Young’s sinking liner for what should’ve been the last out.
But right-field umpire Chris Guccione ruled that he trapped it and the call stood after the umpires huddled. Manager Joe Girardi came out to argue, but to no avail.
”They got together and talked about it. It’s not that they were out of position. It happens,” Girardi said.
In fact, the Yankees benefited against the Twins in the playoffs last year when a ball Minnesota hit that clearly landed fair was called foul.
This time, the missed call brought Thome to the plate as the potential tying run. Rivera retired the slugger on a popup to third baseman Alex Rodriguez to end the game.
”Mo did a great job there,” Teixeira said. ”Should have been four outs in a row.”
Rivera came into the game in the eighth with runners at second and third and retired Denard Span on a grounder to preserve a two-run edge.
Liriano gave up four runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in 5 2-3 innings for the Twins.
The Dominican lefty breezed through the first five innings of his first career postseason start, allowing just four hits as the Twins jumped out to the early lead.
Cuddyer crushed a two-run homer into the trees in center field in the second inning and Orlando Hudson scored on a passed ball in the third to make it 3-0, as more than 42,000 at jam-packed Target Field leaped to their feet.
But these power-packed Yankees, who swept the Twins in the ALDS last season en route to their 27th title, don’t rattle so easily.
During the regular season, the Yankees overcame deficits of three runs or more to win seven times, according to STATS LLC, and led the majors with 48 come-from-behind victories. Seven of their 11 victories in the postseason last year came after they fell behind, including all three against the Twins.
”There’s disappointment,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ”We had a lot of big opportunities and some big at-bats. We just couldn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”
Their latest started in the sixth against Liriano who retired 10 in a row before Teixeira doubled down the left-field line. Liriano walked Rodriguez and Robinson Cano and Posada followed with RBI singles to make it 3-2.
Rather than go to Jose Mijares in the bullpen, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stuck with Liriano against the lefty Granderson, who came into the game hitting just .234 in 158 at-bats against lefties.
Before the game, Girardi was asked about going with Granderson, who was 4 for 22 against Liriano. The center fielder made Girardi look pretty smart, hitting a triple off the scoreboard in right-center field to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead.
Sabathia gave it right back in the bottom of the inning, walking rookie Danny Valencia with two outs and the bases loaded to tie the game. But the big lefty – one of the leading contenders for the AL Cy Young award – fanned J.J. Hardy to escape the jam.
Sabathia gave up four runs – three earned – on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks.
Teixeira came up with one on and one out in the seventh to face Jesse Crain, who has been the Twins’ best reliever over the second half of the season. But Teixeira sent a fastball soaring just inside the right-field foul pole, completely deflating the juiced home crowd.
It’s not the first time Teixeira has trampled the Twins’ hearts. His 11th-inning home run in Game 2 last year gave the Yankees a 4-3 victory and got them rolling toward the sweep.
The Twins had a chance in the seventh, when Thome came to the plate with two runners on and two outs. But Robertson got him to chase a breaking ball in the dirt to end the inning.
In the last four years, 15 of 16 teams to win first-round openers have gone on to advance to the league championship series. The lone exception was the 2006 Detroit Tigers, who lost the opener at Yankee Stadium and then won three in a row.
No team has lost a first-round opener at home and still advanced since the 2005 Los Angeles Angels, who beat the Yankees in five games.
”I think Game 1 is the most important game, no matter what,” Granderson said.
With its baseball-colored roof and earsplitting crowd noise, the Metrodome was long thought of as one of the few true home-field advantages in baseball. But it wasn’t doing the Twins any good recently. They lost their last eight playoff games under the big top, then went an AL-best 53-28 at home under the stars in the first season at Target Field.
Many lobbied the Twins to put a roof on Target Field for these supposedly frosty October nights. It was a gem of a night for the opener, with the temperature at first pitch a comfortable 63 degrees.
What Target Field lacked in the volume department, it more than made up for in ambiance. The brand new ballpark sparkled under the pitch black sky, with the lights from the skyline just beyond right field providing a breathtaking backdrop.
But it did the home team no good. Reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer went just 1 for 5 with a single and the Twins finished 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
NOTES: Yankees SS Derek Jeter went 1 for 5. He has reached base in 49 of 54 career division series games. … The Yankees are 82-2 when leading after eight innings. … Cuddyer’s two hits gave him 25 in his postseason career, moving him into third place in Twins history. … Twins LHP Brian Fuentes pitched 1 2-3 innings of perfect relief. … The Twins are 0-29 in the postseason when trailing after 7 innings.