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August 20, 2004

A win is a win
by SG

To say that the series finale against Minnesota was a must-win is inaccurate. With an eight game lead and only 43 games remaining, it would take a collapse of historic proportions for the Yankees to not make the playoffs. However, there was definitely a sense of urgency, and the pitching matchup was definitely in favor of the Yankees, with El Duque looking to move to 6-0, vs. Carlos Silva, who's been workman-like, but not much more than that.

Silva cruised through the first three innings, throwing 35 pitches, 28 strikes. Meanwhile, it was obvious that El Duque did not have great velocity tonight, and seemed to really be battling his control. In the first inning, he threw a breaking ball as the first pitch to every hitter, and needed 26 pitches to get through the inning. A wild pitch to Morneau with a runner on third allowed Minnesota to take an early 1-0 lead, but he recovered to whiff MOrneau with a nasty splitter, then got Jose Offerman(he's still in baseball?) to line out to John Olerud for the third out.

It stayed that way until the top of the fifth, when the Yankee offense finally woke up from their slumber, capped off by a Gary Sheffield three run HR. Sheffield continues to defy the pain in his shoulder, and produce at a near-MVP level. He's not quite at the Ramirez/Ortiz level, but he's close.

El Duque got through the fifth in short order, and it seemed the Yankees were on their way to an easy victory.

In the top of the sixth, Posada doubled, and Olerud singled him in. It's time to acknowledge that Olerud has been a very good pickup by the Yankees. Sample size issues aside, he's hit .319, with an OBP over .400. He hasn't shown much power, but he's helped the Yankees extend innings by not making outs, and he's been very good defensively at first. I wasn't crazy about his signing, I mean he got released by Seattle, but credit to Cashman for talking him into it, and Olerud for coming to the Yankees and doing the job.

El Duque continued on, and in the sixth he started to really struggle. The Twins were able to tack on a couple of runs, although Sheffield threw out Offerman trying to go from second to third with two outs on a sacrifice fly, which is one of the stupidest plays in baseball. You still need a hit to drive you in, getting from second to third with two outs makes no sense. This inning should probably have been an indication to Joe Torre that El Duque was probably not going to be able to go much longer.

In the Yankee top of the seventh, Sheffield(his name is all over this game) walked. Up stepped Alex Rodriguez, to pad his stats with a meaningless two run HR. At least, it sure seemed that way at the time, as his HR pushed the Yankee lead to 9-3. At this point, it's just a matter of letting the scrubs in the bullpen hold the lead, right?

El Duque started the bottom of the 7th at 85 pitches. Not unreasonable. What was unreasonable was walking Cristian Guzman to lead off an inning with a six run lead. Apparently that was ok with Torre, because he left Hernandez in to pitch to Matt LeCroy. LeCroy fouled off a few pitches before striking out, then Luis Rivas doubled to left scoring Guzman.

No big deal, 9-4. Take out El Duque, bring in Quantrill. Unfortunately, for the second consecutive appearance, Quantrill got lit up like a Christmas tree. Single, double, triple, and it was now a 9-7 game. Torre went to Flash Gordon, who got an RBI groundout before retiring Offerman.

It remained 9-8 going into the bottom of the 8th. The formula was still in place, Gordon would hand the lead to Mo, and the Yankees would win again. Except for that SOB Shannon Stewart, who the Yankees could not retire in this series. His two run triple with two outs gave the Twins a 10-9 lead. With Automatic Joe , who had blown one save in 34 chances this year looming, this game looked like another painful loss.

Except for Gary Sheffield. I never liked Gary Sheffield. He always seemed to be a little too cocky, a little too arrogant, I didn't like the way he intentionally made errors in Milwaukee to get traded, I didn't like all the contract squabbles I always heard about with him, etc.,

He's won me over. There is not a player that I can ever remember on the Yankees who has seemed to deliver a key hit when needed as much Sheffield has this season. Clutch hitting is not considered to be a repeatable skill, but that doesn't take away from the big hits Sheffield has provided this year. After Jeter made an out, up stepped Sheffield, and out went the ball. rLr, a regular poster over at once described Sheffield as "having the eyes of a snake". This is a perfect description of the way he glares at the pitcher, daring them to throw it by him. What he's done this year is all the more remarkable, considering the obvious pain he's playing in.

This seemed to rattle Nathan, who then gave up a single to Rodriguez. Alex stole second, then another player having a very good season, Hideki Matsui stepped up. Clutch-zilla singled in Rodriguez with the go-ahead run, Posada, Olerud and Sierra added some insurance, then Mariano came in and showed Joe Nathan how it should be done, striking out the side.

A good win, and the team stays undefeated in games that El Duque has started. Next up, a three game series back home with Anaheim.

Pitching matchups
Friday: Ortiz vs. Lieber
Saturday: Sele vs. Loaiza (if he hasn't been traded)
Sunday: Escobar vs. Vazquez