There were more than a few encouraging signs from the Yankees in their American League Division Series sweep of the Minnesota Twins.
Alex Rodriguez finally produced some October magic, Derek Jeter delivered a big home run and another brilliant defensive play, and Mariano Rivera performed like, well, Mariano Rivera. The team even got contributions from A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain.
All of that is fine, but here’s one other point to consider: the Bronx Bombers must play better if they are going to beat the Angels in the American League Championship Series. The Yankees swept the Twins, but it also helped that the Twins made critical mistakes that helped the Yankees. It’s not so much that the Yankees won, but the Twins made miscues that practically gift-wrapped the series for New York.
Such as? Glad you asked.
The most glaring was in Game 2, where the Twins summoned closer Joe Nathan to protect a two-run lead. The Yankees held a 1-0 lead in the series, and to that point had managed all of three hits against four Minnesota pitchers. Nathan surrendered three hits, including a two-run home run by A-Rod, and the game went extra innings.
In the 11th, the Twins loaded the bases with none out against Damaso Marte and David Robertson, but failed to push in the go-ahead run.
A lot of people complain about umpire Phil Cuzzi’s blown call on a ball hit by Mauer down the left field line, which he incorrectly called foul. Mauer should have been on second base, no question about it. Yet if the Twins can’t push across the go-ahead run in that inning, they didn’t deserve to win the game. And they didn’t, losing in the bottom of the inning on Mark Teixeira’s walk-off home run off of Josa Mijares.
In Sunday’s series clincher, the Twins took a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning on an RBI by Mauer. Carl Pavano, a former Yankees bust, kept his former teammates guessing through the first six innings. So what does he do when he gets a lead?
He promptly gives it up, yielding home runs to A-Rod and Jorge Posada, as the Yankees took the lead for good.
In the eighth, Nick Punto’s basesrunning mistake proved costly, as he was gunned down after a terrific play by Jeter, who saw Punto running through the stop sign at third. Punto was dead on the relay from Posada, and it killed the rally. The bullpen then promptly blew whatever chance the Twins had by allowing two tack-on runs in the 9th as the Yankees won, 4-1.
And while everybody pointed to A-Rod, did any one notice that few others hit for the Yankees? Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher hit .083, Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Teixeira were at .167. Hideki Matsui was .222. Phil Hughes pitched all three games, but had an ERA of 9.00.
Rodriguez had a fantastic series, hitting .455 with two home runs and six RBIs. His postseason struggles are legendary, but his shot off Nathan in Game 2 changed the series, and he crushed another home run off of Pavano. The starting pitcher with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte was solid.
But if the Yankees think the Angels are going to make the same errors the Twins made, they have another thing coming. They need to dial it up even more in the ALCS, because unlike the Twins, the Angels won’t hand them any thing.