Yankees 5 Twins 4: Comeback Versus Joe Nathan

Alex BrownContributor IMay 16, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 21:  Joe Nathan #36 of the Minnesota Twins pitches in the 12th inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angels Stadium on August 21, 2008 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The Twins make their first visit to the new Yankee Stadium for a four-game series. The Yankees have many weapons, but they are unsurpassed in intimidation by pure historical prominence. That’s why any trip to the Bronx comes complete with shock and awe.

The new stadium is supposed carry on the tradition of making opponents more or less wet their pants. But the new palace isn’t having the desired effect.

There is, first of all, the matter of the not-so-great Yankee team taking the field. As they prepare to face the Twins, they’re 17-17, and 6-7 at home, on a five-game losing streak.

When the Yankees lose, the salary chart is always whipped out so we can be aghast at the price of failure. The payroll is over $201 million—even the Dodgers make do with half that. The Twins, I am proud to say, have essentially the same win-loss record and division rank (third) and are making do on $65 million.

Then there is the complementary home run on check-in. Instead of being distracted by the lovely white arches that ring the stadium like lace, hitters are lofting homers at a prodigious rate. What’s worse, many sail to right by the skimpy, budget-size Utz Potato Chips sign, a sad reminder that a regional snack company can no longer afford the mighty billboard that matched up with Budweiser’s in right center. I miss you, Utz Girl.

So we’re back to money, because the empty seats in the new stadium have got to be soul-crushing to Joe Girardi & Co. Economic trajectories may once have made it realistic to ask New York’s large millionaire population to pay $1250 to watch a single game of baseball, but even if it were a solid foundation for team revenue, it’s just embarrassing.

The greatest shoestring catch, the clutchiest home run, even the one true perfect game—none of them should cost that much to witness.

So the Twins begin the day on the happy note of sweeping the Tigers and curious about their potential for using the home run ball against their hosts. We send up Francisco Liriano; the Yanks start Phil Hughes.

In the second inning, Justin Morneau deposits a solo homer to the Utz zone in right, scoring first, scoring firmly. Morneau’s swing is so tailor-made for the home run magnet in this stadium that it’s almost an obligatory pop, like kissing the Blarney Stone.

To this one-run lead we cling a while, later adding another run in the fourth and run number three in the fifth, via a second solo homer from Morneau. The Yankees finally make a real peep in the fifth, with a solo homer from Derek Jeter.

Joe Mauer punches his home run card with a solo shot in the seventh. This hit does not appear to have any special Yankee Stadium wind current to assist it, for it’s planted deep to center, the kind of wallop that would be a homer anywhere. Mauer’s power surge continues.

It’s now 4-1 Twins in the seventh. Jesse Crain has replaced Liriano, and the Yankees provide some genuine excitement.

With two out, Brett Gardner collects two strikes and then shoots a ball to left. It bends further left and drops in a different spot than Denard Span had planned to meet it. Span had already made a great nailed-ya throw tonight, but this ball skids and clatters by the outfield wall while Gardner just keeps running.

And running. And running all the way home. Span’s throw is close, but Gardner is certainly safe. The inside-the-park homer isn’t supposed to be necessary in this new Yankee Stadium, but here it is. It’s textbook exhilarating, and Gardner joins the happy group of players whose feat matches beating the dealer standing on 20.

This scoring, however, is not the only interesting part of the evening. The real story is how each team manages to go nine innings through a minefield of walks.

Liriano alone issues six of them, and not one comes in to score. Baseball is notorious for paying back pitchers who issue walks. The most robust double, the canniest single, even the zippy triple don’t seem to take the revenge that walks do.

But tonight the Yankees hand out seven and the Twins do all their scoring on three solo homers and a double plus sac fly to cash in a single by Jason Kubel.

The Yankees collect ten walks, and Liriano tiptoes around all of his. Crain and Jose Mijares are also able to let the runners they walk wilt on the bases. But Joe Nathan is not as fortunate.

In the ninth, up 4-2, Nathan comes in for his seventh save opportunity. He has blown one chance and appeared in non-save situations without his full powers—there may be kryptonite out there somewhere. Nathan is good, but he is not a sure thing this season.

Gardner leads off, still jazzed by his inside-the-park job. Gardner is only in the game because Johnny Damon was ejected for arguing a strikeout call, so he has a late start. But so far he’s singled and homered. Nathan fails to fool him: he pounds a triple.

The Yankees have many incentives to win this game, but Gardner could be excused for hoping for a tie. With one more at-bat, he could collect the double and hit for the cycle.

Gardner doesn’t have much time to daydream of such things on third base. Mark Teixeira singles to score him, and Nathan is awash in closer’s adrenaline. He has a one-run lead left, and Rodriguez is up.

This is A-Rod’s first game at home after starting the season with hip surgery. There have been cheers tonight, but also boos. A-Rod has struck out with the bases loaded (there were walks involved) and collected two walks himself. In all other respects, his massive paycheck tonight has purchased flexing in the on-deck circle.

He has something to prove, and Nathan’s attempts to foil him require the use of pitches outside the strike zone. Rodriguez walks, scooting Teixeira on to second base.

Nathan strikes out Hideki Matsui, then gets Nick Swisher to ground out but not without advancing the runners. With first open, Robinson Cano gets an intentional walk, bringing the Twins’ free pass tally up to ten. Not one of them has scored.

So far. Melky Cabrera hits Nathan’s first pitch to a handy void in left. Fielders do not converge on it in time. It’s a hit, scoring two, and the Yankees have their first lead of the night in the form of a win.

Only one walk actually scores for either team, but it’s part of a game-winning pair. The Yankees, on the ropes all game long, pull off the surprise win. The minefield of walks only explodes on Nathan, but it does go boom.


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