SERIES: American League Division Series; Twins lead 1-0.
The New York Yankees will try to ignore comparisons to last year’s playoff collapse and focus on some more encouraging postseason history as they look to overcome another division series funk.
The stumbling Yankees try to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole when they face the Minnesota Twins in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium.
For the second straight season, New York is in trouble in the first round of the playoffs after falling 3-1 in Tuesday’s series opener. The Yankees had numerous problems in the field, and their vaunted offense was mostly shut down by four pitchers as the Twins beat the Yankees for the first time in 14 games.
“It’s been a running joke the last couple of days— we might just as well scrimmage these guys and get them warmed up for the next round, because that’s where everybody’s putting them,” outfielder Jacque Jones of the heavily favored Yankees.
The Twins won even though ace left-hander Johan Santana was forced to leave in the fifth inning when he suffered leg cramps. Rick Reed got two outs, and J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado finished up, allowing just a run in the ninth.
“One thing you don’t do is show panic in the dugout,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “So I just said, ‘Well, let’s have some fun. We are going to piece it together.’ And that’s what we did.”
The Yankees won their ALDS opener against the Anaheim Angels last year before losing three straight. New York is hoping that this series will follow the pattern of the last three first-round series in which it dropped the opener. The Yankees advanced each time, beating Oakland in 2000 and ’01, and Texas in 1996.
New York will hand the ball to left-hander Andy Pettitte, a veteran of 25 playoff starts who knows better than to overlook the Twins.
“There’s nobody in this clubhouse that took them for granted,” Pettitte said. “They went further in the playoffs last year than we did.”
The Yankees played poorly in Game 1, but that was due in part to the aggressive Twins, who regularly took the extra base against the weak-armed New York outfielders.
Minnesota also played the kind of outstanding defense that was characteristic of the Yankees during their run of four World Series titles in five years. Left fielder Shannon Stewart had the biggest play of the day, making a leaping catch on Hideki Matsui’s drive to the wall in the ninth inning.
The Yankees must improve on a 1-for-10 performance with runners in scoring position, and they’ll be trying to do it against Brad Radke, who has been nearly unbeatable since the All-Star break.
Radke struggled to a 3-7 mark in the first half, but went 11-3 after the break. He’s had success in the playoffs, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in last year’s first-round victory over the A’s.
While New York is looking at Tuesday’s loss as just a bad game, the Yankees must prove they can overcome the defensive lapses and mental errors that also plagued them throughout last year’s loss to the Angels.
“When the game gets sloppy and the ball gets thrown around, that makes it tough,” said right-hander Mike Mussina, who had been 20-2 against the Twins. “That’s what the postseason is, minimizing mistakes. If you make a mistake in the postseason, they tend to be big ones.”
The scene shifts to the raucous Metrodome for Game 3 on Saturday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Twins - AL Central champions. Yankees - AL East champions.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Twins - Stewart (.307 avg., 13 HRs, 73 RBIs, 44 doubles), 2B Luis Rivas (.259, 8, 43, 17 steals), 1B Doug Mientkiewicz (.300, 11, 65), DH Matthew LeCroy (.287, 17, 64), RF Jones (.304, 16, 69), CF Hunter (.250, 26, 102), 3B Corey Koskie (.292, 14, 69), C A.J. Pierzynski (.312, 11, 74), SS Cristian Guzman (.268, 3, 53, 14 triples). Yankees - 2B Soriano (.290, 38, 91, 114 runs, 35 steals, 130 Ks), DH Nick Johnson (.284, 14, 47, 70 BBs in 96 games), SS Derek Jeter (.324, 10, 52), 1B Jason Giambi (.250, 41, 107, 129 BBs, 140 Ks), CF Williams (.263, 15, 64), C Jorge Posada (.281, 30, 101), LF Matsui (.287, 16, 106, 42 doubles), 3B Aaron Boone (.254, 6, 31, 8 steals), RF Karim Garcia (.262, 11, 35).
TWINS PROBABLE STARTER: Radke (14-10, 4.49 ERA). The right-hander’s only start against the Yankees this year came during his poor first half. Radke pitched five innings and allowed nine hits and seven runs in an 11-4 loss April 18 at the Metrodome. He has struggled throughout his career against the Yankees, going 3-9 with a 4.92 ERA in 14 starts. Radke is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA in three postseason outings.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Pettitte (21-8, 4.02). The left-hander is 3-3 with a 4.65 ERA in 10 ALDS starts, and 10-7 with a 4.49 ERA in the playoffs. Pettitte won 16 of his last 18 decisions this season, erasing questions about the elbow problems that plagued him in 2002. He won both his starts against the Twins this season, 7-3 on April 8 at Yankee Stadium and 4-2 on April 19 at the Metrodome. Pettitte is 7-5 with a 3.71 ERA in 16 starts against Minnesota.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Twins - In addition to his spectacular ninth-inning catch, LF Stewart doubled in his first career postseason at-bat. … 2B Luis Rivas picked up his first career postseason RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. … The Twins won their seventh straight postseason opener. Yankees - SS Jeter went 2-for-3 to extend his postseason record for career hits to 103. … 1B-DH Giambi carried his regular season struggles in the playoffs, going 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts. … Hitting problems also continued for 1B-DH Johnson, who went 0-for-4 and is in an 0-for-21 slide.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Twins - 42-39 on the road in regular season, 1-0 in postseason. Yankees - 50-32 at home in regular season, 0-1 in postseason.