(Note: I’ll be doing a baseball hour with Gary Eichten on Midday at noon Friday. You can listen at 91.1 FM or www.mpr.org.)
All of the talk about momentum and a fresh start and this and that was pretty much fueled by the same lack of sleep and focus that made the Game 1 outcome pretty much inevitable. Team gets to New York at 4 a.m. or so with a 6 p.m. game ahead of it after the tumultuous excitement of the previous day and you expect them to go out and beat the Yankees, of all teams?
In normal times, this would have been one of those games where you put out the “B” lineup and hope for the best.
Of course, that wasn’t going to happen in the postseason opener.
Instead, rather than try to bring Nick Blackburn back again on short rest, Gardy and Rick Anderson opted to throw rookie Brian Duensing at the Yankees — and got predictable results. Using Blackburn would have been like inviting the Cub Scout troop over for dinner and bringing out the good china, a waste of effort and quite possibly destructive in the long term. If Blackburn pitches well and the Twins lose 3-2, they’re still the same one game down as they are by losing 7-2 … or if they’d lost 17-2 and actually gotten more of the suits in the $1,506 seats behind home plate to cheer once in a while.
Now, if the Twins somehow force this series to a fifth game, Gardy can use Blackburn on Wednesday with regular rest. In the meantime, Duensing can be available if the Twins need to get through a left-leaning inning and Francisco Liriano can check out all the cool stuff in and around the Yankee Stadium bullpens. (Yes, it was weird to hear John Gordon introduce Liriano as “the Franchise” during Sunday’s Metrodome-closing ceremonies, but keep in mind that franchises come in all kinds — and I’m not going to be the one snarky enough to call him “Dollar Store.”)
The play that reinforced no how/no way/no win came in the bottom of the fourth when Nick Swisher doubled with two outs and Robinson Cano scored from first base when Delmon Young bounced his throw to Orlando Cabrera and Cabrera’s replay bounced and went wide of the plate. If those throws had been better, Cano is out at home. If one of them is better, Cano is probably out and the score stays tied at 2.
Then, in the next inning, Duensing found too much plate while facing A-Rod and Liriano grooved a pitch to Hideki Matsui and it was pretty much game over.
Again, in a game played on more equal footing, I don’t think Liriano is the one who comes in to face Matsui.
Don’t read this as complaint about the conditions under which the Twins were required to play. The Twins could have avoided this by winning the AL Central in 162 games instead of 163 and the Yankees were perfectly justified in choosing to start Wednesday instead of today. Those are the same advantages we would have expected the Twins to take if circumstances were in their favor.
What happened in Game 1 was that the Twins pretty much did what they could to survive and, yes, it’s improbable to imagine them winning three of the next four from the Yankees after all of the recent history between the teams.
But the current Twins are no strangers to the improbable, right?
I wouldn’t take it to the bank. But I’m cool with going into an alley and rolling the dice.