Yankees 13, Twins 10
MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—As All-Star closer Joe Nathan walked to the mound in the ninth inning with the Metrodome crowd roaring, the Minnesota Twins looked to be on their way to a sweep of the New York Yankees.
Gary Sheffield changed all that with one powerful swing.
Sheffield homered twice and keyed a four-run rally in the ninth inning Thursday night, sending the Yankees to a seesaw, 13-10 win over the Twins.
Nathan, who hadn’t allowed a run in 29 innings, got Derek Jeter to ground out leading off the ninth with Minnesota clinging to a one-run lead. His next pitch was a low fastball to Sheffield, who somehow reached down and drove it into the left-center seats.
“It was a good pitch,” Sheffield said. “It was just a situation where I was trying to be aggressive. If you get behind in the count with him, he’s lights-out. I was just trying to get on base and give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
“I’m telling you, the pitch that he made to Sheffield wasn’t a bad pitch,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Ninety-four mph, or whatever, down below the knees and he hit it out. That’s just a pretty good hitter.”
Afterward, Alex Rodriguez called Sheffield an MVP.
“I can’t see anybody who’s played better baseball in the last four months— with a bad shoulder to boot. It’s been awesome to watch,” he said.
Earlier, it looked as if the Twins would complete an improbable comeback.
Down 9-3 and minus Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter after he crashed into the fence, the Twins came back and almost swept the three-game series between AL division leaders.
Shannon Stewart hit a two-out, two-run triple past Sheffield’s lunge in right field, giving the Twins a 10-9 lead in the eighth and capping a stirring comeback against New York’s stellar bullpen.
“He’d fouled off a bunch of pitches and I didn’t think he’d be able to pull one into the gap,” Sheffield said. “I just moved over about two steps and it cost us.”
He more than made up for it his next at-bat.
After Sheffield’s homer, Rodriguez, just back from a four-game suspension, followed with a single and a stolen base.
“We were on the road, and you’ve got to attack,” Rodriguez said. “I like to save my legs, but I think I’ll run when the game’s on the line.”
That set the stage for Hideki Matsui, who grounded a go-ahead single.
Nathan, who still received a polite ovation as he walked to the dugout, tried to brush off the tough loss.
“It’s not about worrying about what you did the previous day. It’s about coming back in and trying to start a new streak,” he said.
Ford entered as a replacement for Hunter, who strained his neck when he ran into the padded wall while sprinting after Jorge Posada’s double in the fifth. Hunter stayed down on the warning track for several minutes, left the field on a cart and was day to day.
“I thought we had it when we had a six-run lead the second time,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “But those things happen.”
The Twins have a four-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central. Gardenhire was pleased that his team won a series against the Yankees after losing 13 straight regular-season games to them before this week.
Luis Rivas hit an RBI double, and Quantrill relieved El Duque. Stewart followed with a single, and Jacque Jones hit a two-run double to make it 9-6. Ford’s RBI triple chased Quantrill. Justin Morneau’s RBI grounder off Gordon pulled the Twins within a run.
With two outs and runners at the corners in the eighth, Stewart worked a full count against Gordon before his liner to right-center barely eluded Sheffield, playing with a painful left shoulder.
“At the last minute, it started to dive, but my mind must have thought otherwise,” Sheffield said. “Maybe if I’d have dived I would have caught it.”
After being outscored 15-4 in the first two games of the series, the Yankees broke open a 1-all game with a five-run fifth off starter Carlos Silva.
Posada led off with a drive that Hunter almost caught. But the three-time Gold Glove winner smacked into the wall and lost the ball. Sheffield’s homer capped the burst.
The Yankees improved to 8-0 in games started by Hernandez. … Rodriguez got an inadvertent foot to the face from Jones when they collided at third base in the sixth. … On his return from the suspension, Rodriguez said: “I’ve missed one game in four years. I got really nervous watching my team on TV.” … The last time the Yankees blew a six-run lead and lost was July 14, 2002, at Cleveland, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.