Results tagged ‘ Nick Punto ’

Suzuki, Yankees Turn Back Clock Against Dodgers

GAME 70

YANKEES 6, DODGERS 4

It was the 1981 World Series when the Los Angeles Dodgers had last played the New York Yankees in the Bronx and Ichiro Suzuki was a seven-year-old boy in Japan hardly thinking he would someday play a game in one of baseball’s most storied rivalries.

But on Wednesday, Suzuki flashed some legendary skills of his own past and his fellow countryman Hiroki Kuroda pitched into the seventh inning as New York spoiled the return of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly’s first visit to the new Yankee Stadium by defeating Los Angeles in front of a paid crowd of 40,604.

Suzuki was 3-for-4  -  including his third home run of the season  -  and drove in three runs off Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu (6-3) to lead the Yankees to their second victory in a row after they had dropped five straight games last week.

Kuroda (7-5), meanwhile, held the Dodgers to two runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out two in 6 2/3 innings.

Lyle Overbay, in the early stages of replacing injured first baseman Mark Teixeira for a second time this season, got the Yankees off to a quick start against Ryu by delivering a booming two-run double off the center-field wall in the second inning to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Thomas Neal opened the frame with a singe to right and Suzuki followed with an infield single off the glove of second baseman Skip Schumaker. David Adams advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and Overbay stroked a 1-1 Ryu fastball off the wall in the deepest part of the ballpark.

Suzuki added to the lead when he opened the sixth inning by turning on an inside fastball from Ryu and depositing it deep into the right-field bleachers to make it 3-0.

That run would become critical when the Dodgers rallied for two runs off Kuroda and hastened his departure from the game.

The Dodgers loaded the bases with one out against Kuroda and A.J. Ellis delivered the Dodgers’ first score with a sacrifice fly to center to score Hanley Ramirez, who would end up 4-for-4 in the game.

Pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston followed with a single to left that scored Andre Ethier, who had drawn a walk earlier in the inning.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Kuroda with Shawn Kelley and Kelley ended the threat by striking out Nick Punto swinging.

The Yankees then got some help from a very sloppy Dodgers’ defense, which committed a season-high tying four errors in the game.

With one out in the seventh, Jayson Nix and Robinson Cano delivered back-to-back singles off left-hander J.P. Howell. Mattingly replaced Howell with right-hander Ronald Belasario.

Vernon Wells then hit a weak popup halfway to the mound and Belasario let the ball hit the ground, but the ball rolled under his legs. Belasario recovered the ball and attempted to throw out Cano as he ran towards second base, but his throw was wide of the bag and rolled into centerfield to score Nix.

After Belasraio hit Neal with his next pitch to load the bases, he was removed in favor of left-hander Paco Rodriguez. Suzuki greeted him by serving the ball like a tennis lob into left-field for a single that scored two runs.

Ramirez got the Dodgers closer in the eighth inning by slamming a frozen-rope line-drive two-run homer to left off right-hander Preston Claiborne.

However, Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning, punctuating his outing by striking out rookie sensation Yasiel Puig looking for the final out, to record his 25th save in 26 opportunities this season.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Suzuki flashed some of his 2001 rookie form in this game. In addition to going 3-for-4 to raise his season average to .274, Suzuki also made a sensational leaping grab on the warning track in right to rob Adrian Gonzalez of an extra-base hit in the eighth inning. Considering Ramirez homered one pitch later, Suzuki’s catch also preserved Kuroda’s lead.
  • Kuroda was not at his best but he got the job done by keeping the Dodgers off the scoreboard through the first six innings. His own defense saved him in the fourth inning. Gonzalez singled to lead off the frame and Ramirez followed with a double to advance Gonzalez to third. But Kuroda escaped the jam by spearing a hot smash liner off the bat off Ethier and doubling Gonzalez off third base.
  • Overbay continues to produce big hits with runners in scoring position. With his two-run double in the second inning, Overbay now has 32 RBIs, which ties him for second on the team with Travis Hafner. The Yankees need Overbay to produce, particularly against left-handers like Ryu, until Teixeira returns to the lineup.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There really was not much negative to criticize in this one. Everyone of the starters contributed offensively, Kuroda pitched well as always and the team did not commit and error in the field. What is there to criticize?

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees lost the second game of the doubleheader, 6-0. For some reason the Yankees could not hit slop-tossing lefty Chris Capuano (2-4) and Phil Hughes (3-6) pitched another disappointing game. The Yankees collected only three hits.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a four-game home series against the struggling Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-4, 3.95 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Pettitte allowed four runs and a season-high 11 hits in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday. Pettitte is 16-6 with a 4.09 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with young lefty Matt Moore (8-2, 4.12 ERA). Moore has been pounded for 19 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings over his past three starts. Moore is 3-2 with a 2.57 ERA against the Yankees in his brief career.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

2012 Looks Like More Trouble For ‘Red Flops’

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX

A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011″ the term seems apropos.

On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.

Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.

Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.

There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?

Well, it does not look good.

STARTERS

The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.

So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.

Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.

If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.

Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.

Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.

The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.

Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”

But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.

Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.

With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.

But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.

Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.

Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.

For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.

The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.

None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.

This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?

BULLPEN

The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.

But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.

There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.

The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.

Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.

Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.

The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.

The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.

This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.

Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.

STARTING LINEUP

The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.

Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.

The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.

To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.

The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.

Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.

More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.

The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.

The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.

The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.

Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.

The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.

Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.

That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.

The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.

BENCH

The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.

The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.

The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.

This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.

ANALYSIS

The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.

The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.

This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.

The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.

With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.

I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.

Just call them the Red Flops.

 

Jeter’s Smart Play Won Series For Yankees

ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT:


For years the detractors of Derek Jeter have scoffed at his play in the field. At 35, they said he is too old and his range is too poor to be considered a great shortstop. The Jeter Is Overrated Fan Club has grown louder over the years buttressed by Bill James and his sabermetric study of Range Factor.

Jeter loyalists say that is hogwash. They cite Jeter’s litany of fielding gems, including the famous flip to Posada to nab Jeremy Giambi at the plate and his headlong sprinting catch that took him into the seats against the Red Sox. Of course, the fact he has won three Gold Gloves adds to the evidence that James and fellow detractors might be wrong.

But Sunday night, Jeter turned in another one of those playoff gems. Shall we call it: Flip 2?

THE SCENE:

The New York Yankees, who have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series, are protecting a 2-1 lead on the Minnesota Twins in the bottom of the eighth inning. Phil Hughes, who was nearly indestructible in the regular season but hittable in this playoff series, has just given up a leadoff double to the Twins’ No. 9 hitter, Nick Punto.
Hughes knows if Punto scores the game will be tied and he also knows if leadoff man Denard Span gets Punto to third with less than two outs, preventing the Twins from tying the game will be tough with Orlando Cabrera and AL batting champion Joe Mauer due to bat after Span.
Because Span is a left-handed hitter, Jeter is deep on The Metrodome carpet and shading Span slightly up the middle. On a 1-0 pitch, Span hits a Hughes fastball down hard on the synthetic surface and the ball sails directly over Hughes, takes another hop and looks to be headed into centerfield.
But that is when this scenario turns into the key moment of the game:
JETER FLAGS IT DOWN

Jeter moves quickly to his left to try to keep the ball in the infield because he knows if it gets by him that Punto will score the tying run easily. Jeter moves about 15 feet behind the second base bag and catches the ball off the second hop. 
He knows he has no play on the speedy Span chugging down the line at first base but he does spot Punto rounding the third-base bag aggressively and he wants to make sure that if Punto does try to score that he gets the ball to catcher Jorge Posada.
PUNTO MISSES THE SIGN

Punto was running as fast as he could to third, knowing that the ball was hit up the middle so there can be no play on him. He also was hearing a huge crescendo of fan noise and he believed that the ball bounced into centerfield. He put his head down and intended to round third and score on the play.
“It was one of those things where crowd noise got me a little bit,” Punto said. “The fans were just excited that they saw there wasn’t going to be a play at first base. There were [54,735] people screaming, and I felt like that ball might have gone through. It’s a huge play in that game, and I can’t let that happen. It’s a little tough to swallow right now.”

Meanwhile, third-base coach Scott Ullger had moved halfway down the third-base line to give Punto the sign. He clearly saw Jeter had the ball and knew if Punto had tried to score he would be out easily at the plate. Ullger and the Twins would gladly settle for having runners at first and third with nobody out.

He held up the stop sign to Punto. But Punto rounded third base with his head down and he did not pick up Ullger’s stop sign until he was just about 10 feet away from him.

“He just never looked up, and that’s what I’m there for. I’m there to help,” Ullger told The St. Paul Pioneer Press. “He did look up eventually, but obviously, it was too late. Jeter made the play. He’s so instinctual; he seemed to be making the play and looking to see what Nicky was doing at the same time.”

JETER EXECUTES “FLIP 2″

Jeter does not set his feet to throw hard to Posada. He merely gives the ball a casual flip similar to his patented jump and flip throws to first. But because he well beyond the turf line in back of the second base bag, the throw heads to Posada with a high trajectory but lands short of the veteran catcher with one perfect hop off the turf.

Posada has time to look to see where Punto is along the third-base line and prepare to catch the throw from Jeter.

“I saw him turn the base out of the corner of my eye,” Posada said. “It was a bang-bang play. Jeter made a perfect throw to me at the plate. It just happened real quick.”

POSADA NAILS PUNTO AT THIRD

When Punto realized Ullger was stopping him, he was halfway between third and home. No man’s land. He knew his only hope was to put on the brakes and head back to third. So he sat down in an attempt to stop his momentum with a slide. It worked and Punto now was scrambling to his feet to break back to third.

But Posada saw how far Punto had run and knew if he could get off a good throw to third baseman Alex Rodriguez, he had a chance to pick off Punto before he got back.

Rodriguez ran to the bag and saw Posada winding up for a throw to him. Punto aimed his head-first slide back to the left side of the bag. Although this was the quickest way back, it allowed Rodriguez to lay his left leg flat on the dirt and place his right foot about six inches in front of the bag, giving Posada a perfect throwing lane.

Posada, who spent most of last season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury that required off-season surgery, threw a seed that landed in Rodriguez’ glove about a foot off the ground and toward the left side of the bag.

Rodriguez took the throw and just waited for Punto, in a sense, tag himself out. He leaned far to his right and put his bare hand over the glove to prevent Punto from jarring it loose on the slide. Punto’s chest hit Rodriguez’ glove before Punto could get his hand back to the base.

Third-base umpire Phil Cuzzi, who drew the ire of Twins’ fans the night before when he called a ground-rule double off the bat of Mauer a foul ball, called Punto out. This time Cuzzi had the correct call and Punto looked back to Ullger is disbelief.

He gathered himself, dusted himself off and trotted back to the dugout knowing he had just committed a major base-running gaffe at the worst possible moment.

Hughes and Mariano Rivera retired Cabrera and Mauer, the Twins gave up two more runs to the Yankees in the ninth and the Yankees completed a 3-0 sweep of the Twins with a 4-1 victory in the last game played in The Metrodome.

Jeter’s heads-up play was simply the key moment of the game and one big reason why the Yankees are advancing to the American League Championship Series and the Twins were eliminated.

                                                                    **********

“It was huge at the time,” Jeter said. “That team plays very tough. This game and the previous one could have gone either way. If you’re going to win a series, you’ve got to get some breaks. We made some breaks.”

                                                                    **********


“Nick Punto, no one felt worse than him,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He thought it was a base hit. He didn’t pick up [third-base coach] Scott [Ullger] rounding third. He had his head down. [Derek] Jeter makes a play, and there you have it.”







Caray’s Anti-Yankee Bias Ruins TBS Broadcasts

COMMENTARY


I was not going to write this. I figured the Yankees swept the Twins three straight and I should be happy about it and let bygones be bygones.
But there it was spinning around and my head and I just have to get this out. I am hoping that I can somehow get through to TBS once and for all.
First, let me state that I do not hate Chip Caray. From 1989 to 1998 he was the television play-by-play announcer for the Orlando Magic and I enjoyed his work on those basketball contests. He was obviously working from the Magic being the hometown team and colored his broadcast to favor the Magic in his telecasts.
His voice inflection would jump off the charts when the Magic did something good and it would trail lower when the other team did something good. It was natural because the telecasts were for local markets and the majority of people watching them were Magic fans.
I guess that is why I was attuned to this Caray “voice inflection” thing as the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees squared off in the American League Division Series. So I was waiting to see how Caray would call these games with Ron Darling as his color analyst.
What I heard made me have to mute huge portions of the three games he called for the network. The reason was a very obvious “anti-Yankee bias” he had throughout the series. I know there are going to be people who say “Whoa, you Yankee fans are too sensitive. I did not notice any of that.”
But rather than try to argue whether there was or was not any bias, take this test that will prove my point. Go to MLB.com’s video highlights of Sunday’s game. Play any of the good Twins’ highlights like Joe Mauer’s RBI single or Nick Punto’s eighth inning double. Check out the excited tone in Caray’s voice.
Now play the RBI singles by the Yankees in the ninth inning by Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano. Notice how matter-of-fact and how droll Caray’s delivery is. 
I know that if you hooked this up to one of those expensive computer voice recorders you will see that Caray could not help being excited when the Twins did anything positive and how disappointed he seemed when the Yankees did something good.
Caray really showed himself on Sunday night after Carl Pavano left the game after giving up the two home runs that gave the Yankees the lead. 
He said “What a wonderful game Pavano pitched tonight.” True enough. I have no problem with that but he failed to mention that Pettitte had pitched better because he stood to be the winning pitcher.
Only when Darling piped up about Pettitte’s effort later did Caray acknowledge that Pettitte pitched well also. Later he said Pettitte was better. Well, Chip, which is it?
Did Pavano pitch better than Pettitte? Or were they equals? Or was Pettitte better?
Considering Pettitte won the game I am going with Pettitte and it only took Caray three on-air tries before he finally admitted the obvious.
Having heard Chip do basketball, I can see that is really his element. I assume because of his lineage as the grandson of Harry and the son of Skip, Chip is pretty much pigeon-holed as a baseball announcer now. 
That is a shame because he obviously does not do much homework on the players and teams in the playoffs. It also leads to some embarrassing mistakes during the broadcasts. He also does not spend much time talking to the players, coaches and managers because he offers no insight on them either.
But the most annoying aspect of Caray’s work is that bias.
Think about this. Who watches playoff baseball games? The fans of the two teams and hardcore baseball enthusiasts who may like other teams but love to watch these dramatic October contests.
So if you were a network baseball announcer would you blatantly root for a team like most all of the Fox broadcasters do for their local teams during the regular season? Of course not. Why alienate half your audience? 
Chip Caray could have started the broadcast by saying “Hello from Yankee Stadium and I am sure all of you are hoping that these Cinderella Twins can just find a way to beat the big-payroll bad guys from the Bronx.”
Of course, at least Chip would be honest with his true feelings. 
No, the announcers have to try to hide their bias because their audience is homogenized and the games have to be called down the middle like Vin Scully does with the Dodgers or Bob Costas did this season on MLB Network. 
But some announcers are better at hiding bias than others. All I am saying is Chip Caray was pretty horrible at hiding it and it forced me to mute the game because I could clearly see what was going on and I did not want to hear any shilling for the Twins.
TBS, I know you will never fire Chip because you feel you owe him so much after his dad and Ernie Johnson Sr. did the Braves so well for so many years. But all I am asking is that he work on calling games more down the middle in the future.
I think that would be a reasonable request.
“Oh my, what a sensational series those Yankees had against Minnesota. They thoroughly destroyed the Twins from a pitching, power and fundamentals standpoint. They really deserved to win this series from this sadly outgunned and sloppy Twins team.”
See, Chip, two can play this bias game. 

A-Rod, Posada Blasts Off Pavano Polish Off Yankee Sweep

ALDS, GAME 3
YANKEES 4, TWINS 1
Yankees win best-of-five series 3-0


Carl Pavano had the hopes of all The Metrodome and a 1-0 lead on the New York Yankees and a three-hitter going. But it all slipped away in a sequence of just six pitches.
Former teammates Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada stroked solo home runs in the seventh inning to erase the 1-0 deficit and the Yankees went on to beat Pavano and the Twins on Sunday night to close out the last game played in the Metrodome and sweep the best-of-five American League Division Series.
The Yankees will now advance to the American League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Angels. The best-of-seven series will begin on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
Veteran lefthander Andy Pettitte dueled Pavano pitch-for-pitch and added to his impressive postseason resume with his 15th postseason victory, which ties him with John Smoltz for the most in postseason history.
Pettitte (1-0) pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up one run on just three hits and one costly walk. He fanned seven batters and left a 2-1 lead for the hard-throwing Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera to protect.
That bullpen threesome pitched 2 2/3 innings, gave up three hits and no walks and struck out three as Rivera recorded the final four outs to pick up his first save of this postseason.
Pavano, who never delivered on a four-year, $40 million contract he signed with the Yankees in 2005, entered the seventh inning having walked none and struck out nine, matching Pettitte knowing the Twins’ ability to extend the series to a Game 4 rested in his hands.
However, much like he did in his unremarkable 26 starts over four injury-riddled seasons with the Yankees, Pavano broke down in the clutch. With one out, Rodriguez fought Pavano to a 3-2 count before launching a 374-foot Howitzer shot into right-centerfield that landed in the top row of the football stadium seats.
For Rodriguez, who was much-maligned for his failure to hit in the clutch in the postseason, it was his fifth hit of the series, his second home run and his sixth RBI. With that the Yankees newest “Mr. October” was sporting a .455 batting average in the series as he tied the game at one. It was the ninth postseason home run of his career.
“He came up with a couple of huge home runs for us,” Derek Jeter said of Rodriguez. “He’s swinging the bat well. He’s been swinging the bat extremely well the whole year. It seems like he continues to get better and better, and hopefully, he’ll continue. He’s a big reason why we’re here.”
Pavano then struck out Hideki Matsui on three pitches and Posada stepped to the plate with two out. On a 1-0 pitch, Posada slapped a high line drive to the opposite field in left. Delmon Young got to the wall but the ball just barely scrapped over it and landed in the first row.
The Yankees not only took a huge 2-1 lead, they also knew they finally had a chance to pin a loss on Pavano for the first time since he left the team as a free agent last winter and signed with the Cleveland Indians.
The Yankees could have no sweeter incentive for keeping the lead.
The Yankees dodged a major bullet and the Twins likely gift-wrapped the game to the Yankees with another base-running gaffe in the eighth inning. Hughes gave up a leadoff double to No. 9  batter Nick Punto, who was 4-for-9 in the series with three walks. Leadoff hitter Denard Span then bounced a 1-0 fastball into the Metrodome turf right up the middle and the ball looked to be ticketed for centerfield.
However, Jeter ranged over from shortstop and cut the ball off but had no play on the speedy Span heading to first. So Jeter alertly threw the ball home as Punto was rounding third base. Third-base coach Scott Ullger had gone halfway down the third-base line and signaled Punto to hold up.
However, when Punto saw the sign he was within 10 feet of Ullger. He tried to stop, but his feet slipped and he fell down. By the time he got to his feet and headed back to third, Posada had rifled the ball to Rodriguez and Punto was called out by third-base umpire Phil Cuzzi. This time the TBS television replays showed Cuzzi made the right call.
Punto was a dead Twin.
“It looked like he thought the ball was going to go through,” Posada told MLB.com. “I just hoped he kept going, because we had a pretty good shot to get him.”
Hughes got Orlando Cabrera to fly out and Rivera came in to retire Joe Mauer on a broken bat grounder to Mark Teixeira.
The Twins also committed a bad base-running mistake in the fourth inning of Game 2 when Carlos Gomez rounded second base, slipped and was tagged out by Jeter just before Delmon Young scored. The Yankees went on to win that game 4-3 in 11 innings.
The Yankees added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth when three different relievers each walked one batter to load the bases with one out. Twins closer Joe Nathan, who blew a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 2 by giving up a two-run home run to Rodriguez, was called upon to stop the bleeding.
Instead he opened the wound further.
Posada hit a sharp single into right to score Teixeira. Robinson Cano followed with a bloop single to right to fittingly plate Rodriguez with what will be the final run scored in the Metrodome. The Twins will play in a new open-air stadium next season.
Rivera closed out the ninth and the Yankees celebrated their first playoff series victory since the 2004 when the Yankees ironically beat the Minnesota Twins 3-1 in the American League Division Series.
The Twins scored their only run off Pettitte with two out in the sixth when Span singled and the stole second base. Cabrera then worked a walk and Mauer singled to left to score Span.
Pettitte, who was making his 36th career postseason game, also became the major-league leader in postseason innings pitched with 224 2/3 innings, breaking a tie with Tom Glavine at 218 1/3 innings.
The raucous Yankees celebrated the first postseason series victory in five seasons by spraying themselves and the Metrodome visitors clubhouse walls with champagne. But Pettitte put the evening in true perspective.
“You know, we want to win a World Series,” Pettitte told MLB.com. “We took a step here to move on. We are going to have a nasty series. It’s going to be a war with us and the Angels, but we are looking forward to it. We’re going to celebrate this one and enjoy it. I’m just really happy for our club.”

“People can say whatever they want about home runs and big hits,” Rodriguez said. “If you don’t pitch and you don’t defend, you are not going to win. The story of this has been CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, and all three of them were fantastic.”

The Yankees’ three starters in the series — Sabathia, Burnett and Pettite — completed the series against the Twins with an ERA of 1.42. They gave up 14 hits and six walks and fanned 20 batters in 19 innings. 

“I think we played the same way we have been playing the whole regular season,” Posada said to MLB.com. “I think pitching is just so important when it comes to a series like this. Once you see it, you understand why pitching is so important now.”

“This is what you play for — to get that opportunity — and now we’re playing for the opportunity to go to the World Series,” Jeter said. “It’s only going to get more difficult as we go on.”

Yanks Get Tex Message In 11th To Go Up 2-0

ALDS, GAME 2
YANKEES 4, TWINS 3 (11 INNINGS)


If the majority of the baseball writers who vote for the American League Most Valuable Player award wrote in Mark Teixeira for the top spot, they were vindicated on Friday night.
Teixeira, who singled in the bottom of the ninth ahead of Alex Rodriguez’s two-run home run that tied the game at three, saved his best dramatics for the bottom of the 11th. He led off the inning with a lined bullet off Jose Mijales (0-1) down the leftfield line that hit the top of the wall and bounced into the bleachers as the Minnesota Twins lost their fourth walk-off game of the season to the New York Yankees.

“I really thought it was going to be a double, because I hit it with so much topspin,” Teixeira said. “I hit it hard, but there was so much topspin, I thought there was no chance it was going to get out. I was running hard, making sure I got two. Then the crowd started going nuts — I figured it was a home run.”

This was the Yankees first playoff walk-off victory since Aaron Boone’s home run off Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the deciding game of the 2003 American League Championship Series.
Yankee fans had wondered aloud if the so-called “ghosts” of the old Yankee Stadium would come across the street this season. They may have got their answer, according to Derek Jeter.

“They’ve been showing up all year,” Jeter said to MLB.com. “We’ve had a lot of fun games here, comebacks. You don’t like to fall behind, but if and when we do, we feel that we have a lot of confidence that we can come back.

“It seems like it’s been a magical year so far here, and hopefully, we have a few more great moments.”

With the victory, the Yankees now have a 2-0 stranglehold on the Twins in the American League Division Series as the scene will shift from the very raucous Bronx to the Metrodome in Minneapolis on Saturday.

“Hopefully, we finish the goal that we’ve put out for ourselves all year,” Teixeira told MLB.com. “Right now, you can enjoy it for a couple of hours, but if you don’t take care of business, it kind of loses its magic, I think.”
The walk-off win was set up, as it so often has been in this magical 103-victory season for the Yankees, by some sensational work out of the bullpen. On Friday night, it was no different.
David Robertson (1-0) entered the game in the top of the 11th inning after lefthander Damaso Marte had failed to retire the two lefthanded hitters he was called upon to face — Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel had both singled.
Robertson, who almost did not make the team’s postseason roster because of a sore elbow that shelved him for over three weeks, did give up a single to Michael Cuddyer but Twins’ third-base coach Scott Ullger elected to hold Mauer at third to keep the bases loaded.
Robertson then had to face Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez and Brendan Harris with no safety net.
Young ripped the first pitch but it was hit right to Teixeira at first base.
One out.
Robertson then induced Gomez to also swing at the first pitch and the speedy outfielder slapped a weak grounder to Teixeira. The Gold Glove first baseman, realizing he could not double up Gomez, carefully threw home to make sure he could retire Mauer on a force at the plate.
Two out.
Robertson then had to battle Harris, who had entered the game only because third baseman Matt Tolbert had to leave with a left oblique strain. 
But Harris earlier had tripled in the Twins’ first run of the game in sixth inning and later singled and scored a run in the Twins two-run eighth as they took a 3-1 lead. Harris had also made a sensational diving stop to flag down a potential Derek Jeter hit in the eighth inning. In other words, he had been a thorn in Yankees side all evening.
But on a 1-1 fastball to Harris, Robertson got him to fly out easily to Brett Gardner in centerfield. 
Three out.
Most of the record crowd of 50,006 at the new Yankee Stadium rose as one to cheer Robertson’s effort as he calmly sauntered head down to the dugout.
“Everybody wants to get out of that situation, but nobody really wants to get stuck in that situation,” Robertson told MLB.com. “I was just lucky enough to get out of it.”
The inning, however, was not spared from its share of controversy. Mauer’s single off Marte came after he had earlier hit a pop fly down the leftfield line that ticked off Melky Cabrera’s glove, bounced and landed in the bleachers in foul territory.
Leftfield umpire Phil Cuzzi signaled the ball was foul but television replays showed that the ball had landed about a foot fair and should have been a ground-rule double. But no one on the Twins protested the call.

“There’s always that element of human error in the game, and we got a little break,” Girardi said to MLB.com.

Rodriguez, who entered the game off a two-hit, two-RBI night against the Twins in Game 1, stuck another dagger in the hearts of the Twins’ faithful in the ninth inning. 

With the Yankees trailing 3-1, Teixeira ripped a single to open the inning off Twins closer Joe Nathan, who had 47 saves and an ERA of 2.10 this season. Rodriguez followed and he watched patiently as Nathan threw three consecutive breaking pitches out of the strike zone. A-Rod then took a 3-0 fastball that hit the outside corner for a strike.
But he jumped on Nathan’s next fastball, which was elevated in the strike zone, and Rodriguez drove the ball into the Bronx night sky and it landed in the beefy hands of Yankees pitching coach Mike Harkey in the bullpen.
Yankees fans, who had seen many miracle playoff comebacks in the old Cathedra
l, were treated to another on this evening. Rodriguez, who had been maligned and vilified for his failures to hit in the clutch in past postseasons with the Yankees, took a happy curtain call from the fans after tying the game.
“Obviously, we needed it,” Rodriguez said. “It’s the way we’ve been playing baseball all year. Nothing has changed for us. There’s been a lot of magic in there, and everybody has contributed. For me, personally, that was a lot of fun.”
The Twins were not only bitten badly by the Teixeira and Rodriguez home runs. They also were victims of an incredible night of not getting the big hit at the right time. They left a total of 17 runners on base in 11 innings, the fifth worst number in postseason history dating back to 1903. 
They were handed many chances by Yankees pitchers but failed to cash in with the big one that would have put the game away.
Yankees righthander A.J. Burnett, starting his first postseason game, was effectively wild throughout the game, In the first five innings, he walked four, hit two batters and gave up two hits. But the Twins were unable to push any runs across until the sixth inning.
With two outs and Delmon Young at second base after a stolen base, Harris blasted a 3-1 Burnett fastball off the top of the wall in left-center as Johnny Damon fell and Cabrera missed the carom off the wall and Harris reached third. Burnett escaped further damage by retiring Nick Punto on a groundout but he was removed from the game.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were having problems hitting Twins righthander Nick Blackburn, who also was starting his first postseason game. In the first four innings, Blackburn only issued a walk to Hideki Matsui in the second inning. Robinson Cano broke up any Twins thoughts of a potential no-hitter in the fifth inning with a two-out single.
But once again, the Yankees waited until the Twins scored in the sixth to get their offense going for themselves in their half of the inning.
With one out, Jeter lined double to right-center and Damon coaxed a walk from Blackburn on a full count. Teixera flew out to left for the second out and both runners could not advance.
But Rodriguez, relishing his new role as the Yankees’ latest Mr. October, singled sharply into left to score Jeter to tie the score at 1.
Rodriguez is now 4-for-8 for the first two games series with three singles, a home run and five RBIs. He entered the series on an 0-for-19 slide with runners in scoring position.
“I’m going out there and having fun doing the best that I can,” Rodriguez said to MLB.com. “It’s kind of what I’ve done here for 4 1/2 months since I’ve been back. Hopefully, it continues.”
The Yankees vaunted bullpen, however, hiccuped badly in the top of the eighth.
Phil Hughes, who pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning in Game 1, retired Cuddyer and Young to start the inning. However, he was unable to put away Gomez on a 3-2 pitch and walked him. 
Harris, playing the role of a pest to the hilt, then singled to right as Gomez steamed into third. Punto then stroked a hanging 2-2 curveball up the middle to score Gomez. 
Manager Joe Girardi then opted to bring in closer Mariano Rivera to try to limit the damage but Rivera gave up a single to right to Denard Span that scored Harris with an insurance run to make the score 3-1.
One run the Twins really would have liked to have posted in their run column was left on the basepaths in the fourth inning. With two outs, Burnett hit both Young and Gomez with inside fastballs. Tolbert followed with a clean single to rightfield that looked as if it would score Young easily from second.
However, Gomez rounded second base and quickly decided to go back to second base. His feet slipped out from underneath him and Gomez fell. But just as he scrambled to his feet and headed back to second Swisher had alertly thrown to Jeter at second base. Jeter managed to apply the tag on Gomez just before Young could touch home plate.
The run did not count. 
An oblivious Burnett had to be told when he reached the dugout that the run did not count and he excitedly high-fived Swisher as the rightfielder reached the dugout.
The so-called “Catchergate” scandal surrounding Burnett, however, was not a major consequence in the game. Burnett left the game after six innings and — because Blacksburn was effective early — backup catcher Jose Molina got only one at-bat in the third inning before starting catcher Jorge Posada pinch-hit for him in the sixth.
Girardi had announced in Tuesday’s press conference that Molina would catch Burnett instead of Posada, which had angered the five-time All-Star catcher. 
Posada did deliver a one-out single in the 10th off the embattled Nathan and was lifted for pinch-runner Gardner, who stole second and reached third when Nathan’s pickoff attempt at second went sailing into centerfield. 
But after Jeter drew a walk and Nathan was removed in favor of Mijales, Damon lined into a double play because Gardner had elected to run on contact and he was easily doubled off third.
But the Yankees, who managed to provide their fans 15 walk-off victories this season, delivered their fans the first of the 2009 playoffs.
Burnett topped off the evening by delivering what has become the ritual whipped cream pie to Teixeira’s face as he was being interviewed by TBS television.
“A.J. told me, ‘I finally got you,’” Teixeira said. “So if I’m going to get one this season, I’m glad I waited to the postseason. It was fun.”
The Twins, probably still reeling after seeing so many chances come their way only to fail to win, now head into Game 3 with an 0-9 record against the Yankees this season and they also must deal with the fact that in all six games this season at Yankee Stadium they have had the lead only to eventually lose the game.
Game 3 will also provide a bit of a drama as former Yankees righthander Carl Pavano (14-12, 5.10 ERA) will take the mound in the Metrodome on Sunday night. Pavano has never been a fan or team favorite in New York after he spent most of the time collecting a four-year, $40 million free-agent contract he penned with the Yankees on the disabled list.
He will be opposed by veteran lefthander Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA). Pettitte has a career record of 9-5 with a 3.70 ERA against the Twins. Pettitte, in his only start against the Twins this season on May 18, gave up 12 hits and four runs in 6 2/3 innings at Yankee Stadium but won the game 7-6.
Gametime will be 7:07 p.m. EDT.


Hughes’ Strikeout Of Cabrera The Turning Point

ALDS GAME 1: KEY MOMENT


The game is in top of the seventh inning and there are two men on and two out with the New York Yankees leading the Minnesota Twins 6-2. Yankees manager Joe Girardi elects to remove his ace lefthander CC Sabathia with Orlando Cabrera due up. Cabrera had singled in his last two trips to the plate against Sabathia. 

Girardi figures that if Cabrera gets on base with a hit or a walk, American League batting champion is looming on the on-deck circle as the potential tying run. So he summons 23-year-old righthander Phil Hughes from the bullpen.

Why Hughes? Well the former starter who was placed in the bullpen as an afterthought in June led the major leagues with a 1.40 ERA in 44 relief appearances this season. Opponents hit only .173 against him with 37 appearances scoreless and 24 of those being hitless.

Cabrera, 34, has been in situations like this before. In five of the past six seasons he has played for a team that has reached the playoffs. This season he was languishing on a mediocre Oakland Athletics team when the Twins made the call to bring him over just before the trade deadline.

All Cabrera did for the Twins was hit .493 and play his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop to help the Twins win 17 of their last 21 games to win the Central Division. It was his two-run home run against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday that put the Twins ahead in the seventh inning.

This was going to be an epic showdown and it was. It ended up being the key moment in the game:

Hughes toed the rubber to get his sign from catcher Jorge Posada. He never looked at Matt Tolbert taking his lead at third or Nick Punto at second. Meanwhile, Cabrera dug in to the righthand batter’s box and geared up for Hughes’ trademark fastball.
PITCH 1: Hughes aimed a four-seam fastball to the outside corner, belt high. It bore in at 94 miles per hour. Cabrera swung but his bat trajectory was too high and his bat speed was too slow and he missed. Cabrera was down in the count 0-1. Cabrera shook his head slightly.
PITCH 2: Hughes again rocked back on his right leg and threw another four-seam fastball to the outside corner. But the pitch, taking on a life of it’s own, swept far outside and Posada leaned out to his right to catch it. Cabrera was not fooled and took it for a ball. 1-1.
PITCH 3: Hughes and Posada decide to try to get Cabrera to chase a high fastball and Hughes rocks and delivers another four-seam fastball right down the heart of the plate but it rides just above the letters. Cabrera swings and fouls it back to the screen. Cabrera is down in the count 1-2.
Yankee fans begin to start their clapping for a strikeout and many in the crowd are shouting “Hughes.”

PITCH 4: Hughes then decides to throw another four-seam fastball but this time it is aimed inside to tie up Cabrera. Like the previous two offerings, the pitch is registered at 95 mph and Cabrera swings but can only weakly foul off to the right. Hughes’ fastball is just a bit faster than Cabrera can swing. The count holds at 1-2.
PITCH 5: Posada calls for a slider, hoping to get Cabrera to swing early and miss it. Hughes must be careful not to leave it up in the strike zone. Hughes delivers the pitch and it breaks and rides low and outside. Cabrera, not fooled, fouls it off again. The count again holds at 1-2 and Posada and Hughes must decide what to do now.
PITCH 6: Hughes and Posada agree they need to go back to the four-seam riding fastball. They want to repeat Pitch 4 that rode up and in on Cabrera to tie him up. Unfortunately for Hughes, he got underneath the pitch and pushed it too high and Cabrera lets it go for a ball.
Cabrera is back in the count at 2-2.
PITCH 7: Posada decides to scrap any thought of using the slider again or having Hughes throw his slow curve. If Hughes is going to get beat it will be on his four-seam fastball. Hughes aims this one to the outside corner but above the belt. Cabrera swings a tick late again and fouls it down the first base line well out of play. The counts remains 2-2. Cabrera is spoiling Hughes’ best stuff.
PITCH 8: Posada and Hughes figure it is time to go for the strikeout. Posada again wants the four-seam fastball but he wants it low and on the outside corner. Hughes rocks and fires it at 94 mph and Cabrera begins to protect the plate but holds off. Home-plate umpire Tim Tschida calls it a ball. Yankee fans groan. The count has run full. Hughes knows he can’t walk Cabrera to load the bases because Mauer is standing there — watching closely.
The crowd continues to clap louder and the shouts of “Hughes” grow louder. They want a strikeout — badly.
PITCH 9: Hughes looks in for the sign and Posada again wants a four-seamer, but he wants Hughes to elevate it again. Hughes rocks and deals it shoulder height right over the outside corner. Cabrera, using a short, compact stroke, fouls the pitch almost straight back the screen. The duel goes on at 3-2 and Hughes rubs up yet another new baseball as he climbs the mound.
The fans are now beside themselves with nerves. They have tasted defeat many times in the postseason since their last championship in 2000 and they want Hughes this 2009 version of the Yankees to get off to a good start in this playoff series. That is why Hughes must come through and get Cabrera out any way can. But, of course, they really want the strikeout.

“Hughes . . . Hughes . . . Hughes”

PITCH 10:  Posada decides this time that he needs to change Cabera’s eye level. Since he is geared up for the 95-mph four-seamer, the trick is to keep moving location. This time he wants Hughes to aim for the knees on the outside corner. There is no margin for error. On Pitch 8, Hughes missed outside. This one had to be a strike. 
Hughes rocks and brings his right forward, the pitch registers 95 again. Cabrera prepares to swing if it is close and he sees it is. Cabrera brings the bat forward and he leans forward on his left foot to reach the outside corner with the bat head. But Cabrera swings over the pitch and he has struck out to end the threat. Cabrera pulls the bat to his chest and half-heartedly tries to break it over his right knee as he heads back to the dugout having lost the challenge with the young righthander. Mauer will not bat as the tying run.
Yankee fans are on their feet, cheering, whistling, yelling “Hughes.” They will exhale collectively realizing the Yankees dodged a major bullet. The Yankees went on to win the game 7-2.

                                                       **********

“You take these young guys that just can go out there for an inning or so and let it fly wi
th great arms,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “If they can handle that out of the bullpen, that’s a wonderful thing. And that just shows you how strong their ballclub is.

“There’s always a reason why a team wins 103 ballgames. You have to have a lot of ammunition and a lot of different ways to win ballgames. They can make a start last about six innings now with that bullpen. And then you go to those guys. They can shut you down.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.