Yankees-Twins Wrap-up: Putting Out Old Fires to Make Room For New Ones

Tom SchecterCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09:  Manager Ron Gardenhire pulls pitcher Nick Blackburn #53 of the Minnesota Twins out of the game in the sixthing inning against the New York Yankees in Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It goes without saying that the better team won this series.

The Yankees hit better with runners in scoring position over the three-game set; their three starters combined for 19 innings, a paltry four runs and fourteen hits allowed, with twenty-one strikeouts. The defense saved three crucial runs in close games—including Teixeira's two outstanding defensive plays with the bases loaded in the 11th inning of Game Two.

But among all the missed opportunities that caused the Minnesota Twins' ouster, I'd like to take a moment to mention some of the things they did well.

In Games Two and Three, Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano combined to hold the Yankees to three runs on six hits, allowing only eight total baserunners over 12.2 innings pitched.

Matt Guerrier, the Twins' setup man, threw scoreless eighth innings in both of those games.

While all but the bottom third of the batting order was struggling, Joe Mauer managed to finish the series with a .417 average (5-12) and one RBI—and it's hard to drive in runs when there isn't anyone on base in front of you.

If you look at the what-ifs, and depending on who you ask, the Twins were approximately one blown call down the left-field line or two (out of three) costly baserunning mistakes away from being up two games to one with an opportunity to finish the Yankees' season today. My proverbial hat is off to them. They had absolutely no quit in them, overmatched as they were—a fair barometer of how good a manager Rod Gardenhire is, and how much his team loves playing for him.

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Joe Girardi's postgame interview included an answer to a question about the Molina-Posada catching controversy that portends great things for him in this clubhouse going forward.

"I want players who want to play every game, every inning, 162 games a year...I don't want players who are happy to come out. I don't want pitchers who are happy to come out. They want to show displeasure? I'm okay with that. I'm fine with it."

Those of us who saw a few of Chad Gaudin's starts this August and September—and witnessed Girardi's seemingly premature hook come out for both Burnett and Pettitte in this series—saw looks on those pitchers' faces that were in various places on the scale of disbelief.

Girardi's feelings on the matter come from his experience in his playing days—especially, I imagine, his latter years on the Yankees backing up one Jorge Posada—and his willingness to step out in front and defend all his players - even during a controversy caused by a problem they have with him - is a step past even Joe Torre's well-documented defense of offending teammates.

It's also a statement. "Players' manager" or not, Joe Girardi is firmly in control of this team. He is going to make whatever moves he feels he has to make, and there's no question that his players are going to follow him, even if they grumble a bit. I'd be very surprised if we hear anything about another Yankee questioning Girardi again this postseason.

More on the Angels tomorrow.