Death, taxes, and the Yankees beating the Twins in the postseason. Thankfully for New York and their fans, the 2009 ALDS matchup between the franchises was no exception to the now-long-running tradition.
The Yankees were coming off of a relatively comfortable 7-2 victory in Game 1, on the back of a gutsy 113-pitch outing from CC Sabathia. Game 2 pitted A.J. Burnett against Minnesota’s Nick Blackburn, who both pitched over 200 innings on the year, with ERAs just over 4.00. The stage was set for a memorable October matchup.
Final Score: Yankees 4, Twins 3
Game MVPs: Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez
In fitting fashion, with each starter having mirroring season stat lines, both Burnett and Blackburn put up similar lines in Game 2. Both right-handers were able to keep this game scoreless through the first five innings.
In the top of the fourth, Burnett hit two consecutive batters in Delmon Young and Carlos Gómez with two outs. Third baseman Matt Tolbert followed it up with what looked like a game-opening RBI single, but Nick Swisher made a heads-up play in right, fielding the ball and throwing behind Gómez rounding second, allowing Derek Jeter to tag him before Young crossed home plate.
The game remained scoreless into the top of the sixth, during which Delmon Young walked and stole second with two outs. Minnesota’s Brendan Harris followed it with a booming triple over the head of Johnny Damon in left to open the scoring in Game 2. Burnett was able to escape the sixth without further damage, but the lead belonged to the Twins.
This did not last long, however. During the Yankees turn in the sixth, with one out, Jeter slashed a patented inside-out double to right-center, followed by a Damon walk. After a hard-fought at-bat resulting in a pop-up from Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez finally put the Yanks on the board by lacing a single through the left side. All tied at one apiece. We’ll be hearing more from A-Rod.
Combinations of Ron Mahay and Jon Rauch for Minnesota, and Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke for New York, kept the game knotted at one into the eighth inning. But in the top of the frame, with two outs and runners on the corners, Nick Punto blooped a single into center field off Phil Hughes to score Gómez. Denard Span quickly joined the party as well, weakly rolling a ball into center to score another run, this time off the usually-invincible Mariano Rivera. The game would remain 3-1, Twins, into the ninth inning.
The Yankees were presented with a two-run deficit against one of the game’s most dominant closers for over a decade: Joe Nathan. Not an ideal spot to be in. Somewhere around this time, I remember reluctantly giving up control of my living room TV, being relegated to a box TV in a bedroom with a screen not much bigger than a shoe box. Teixeira began the ninth with a walk while Rodriguez was on deck. A-Rod then worked the count to 3-1, after which Nathan left a fastball middle-middle, Rodriguez didn’t miss it.
Rendering all his past postseason critics silent, A-Rod launched an opposite-field, game-tying home run into the Yankees bullpen. As a result I yelled and jumped on the bed, likely distracting from whatever was so important on the big TV. At the end of nine innings, it was all square at three.
After a scoreless 10th inning, the first three hitters all reached in the 11th. A blown call by left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi on a leadoff shot down the line by Joe Mauer probably saved a run, but there was trouble regardless. With the bases loaded, the ascendant David Robertson earned his “Houdini” moniker by working out of the jam, thanks in large part to Tex snaring a line-drive and making a force out at home in a pair of heads-up plays.
With the threat temporarily subsided, Teixeira fittingly led off for the Yankees in the 11th. After getting to a 2-1 count, the switch-hitter turned on a José Mijares fastball and lined an absolute wall-scraper into the left field seats for a home run.
It was one that sent Yankee fans home very happy, and that sent the series back to Minnesota with the Yankees up two games to none.
When I think about the often-discussed dominance from the Yankees over the Twins, this is the game I always go back to. A two-run lead, with your top-notch loser on the bump, all leading to more heartbreak for Minnesota (and setting up a postseason for the ages from A-Rod). This was a fantastic game, one that stands out clearly in my memory as a young fan, and one that helped propel this magical team to a World Series win.