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October 7, 2004

Not dead yet
by SG

Larry should have another entry on the game later today, but asked me to get something up until then.

The Yankees played one of their classic back and forth postseason games last night. This was the kind of game that makes postseason baseball great to watch. The Yankee offense finally woke up to score five runs off Brad Radke, highlighted by HRs from Jeter, Sheffield, and Alex Rodriguez. Jon Lieber pitched decently to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead heading into the eighth. However, a dropped third strike in the top of the 8th changed the game. Flash Gordon got Jacques Jones swinging on a curve in the dirt that got by Posada. That changed the situation from two outs and no one on to one out and a runner on first. A Torii Hunter single put the tying run on base for the Twins' scariest hitter, Justin Morneau. Torre decided to bring in Rivera to pitch to him. Morneau flared a double in front of Sheffield, and the Twins were within one. Then an eight pitch AB to Corey Koskie resulted in a rocked opposite field automatic double that plated the tying run. It was a strange AB in that Rivera was throwing very few cutters, seemingly going for the K with four seam fastballs up and away, and it seemed to hurt him. I didn't like seeing Mo pitching away from his strength. Luckily, Jason Kubel was absolutely mismatched on three pitches, and Cristian Guzman grounded out to end the inning, now tied at 5.

From here, it became a battle of bullpens, as Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan came into to shut the Yankees down for four hitless innings. Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, then in came the new Yankee relief ace, Tanyon Sturtze. I've decided to start calling Sturtze "Smoke and Mirrors", because I have no explanation for his sudden effectiveness. Well, he has been throwing a lot more strikes of late, but not yesterday, with 56 pitches, and only 28 strikes. However, he was did a great job for two innings, pitching two hitless innings. It caught up to him in the top of the twelfth, when Torii Hunter hit an HR that probably hasn't landed yet. A single and a walk forced Torre to bring in Quantrill, and the Twins looked ripe to blow the game open. Thankfully, Quantrill induced Kubel to hit an inning ending groundout, and to the bottom of the twelfth we went.

Ron Gardenhire blew it at this point, IMO. Joe Nathan has averaged fewer than one inning per appearance this season but was sent out for a third inning. He'd been great to this point, but after whiffing Olerud, he walked Cairo on five pitches. He probably should've been pulled here, but Gardenhire let him pitch to Jeter. A four pitch walk brought up the notoriously unclutch Alex Rodriguez. He smartly took a called strike on a very hittable pitch, before ripping an automatic double to left-center field. Cairo scored, tying the game, and Jeter went to third.

Sheffield up with first base open meant an intentional walk to load them up for Matsui. Gardenhire finally went to his bullpen about three batters to late to set up the lefty/lefty matchup. Productive-Out-Zilla flared a short fly to RF which Jacque Jones came into catch. Then, Jones made a terrible throw home that had to be cut off, allowing Jeter to score the winning run.

It was a great win, and now the Yankees head to Minnesota tied at 1. I'd love to see them close it out there behind strong outings from Brown (who will start game 3) and either El Duque or Vazquez in game 4. My gut tells me they'll probably split though. The latest scuttlebutt is that Santana and Radke will be pitching games 4 and 5(if necessary) on short rest regardless of the outcome of game 3. I guess they really don't trust Lohse.