The 2004 postseason does not exactly provoke the best thoughts in the minds of Yankees fans. Regardless of the heartbreaking fashion in which this season ended, they did have their share of exciting moments that at least got them to the point they did. One of which, that just missed our top 25 list, was Game 4 of the 2004 ALDS against the Twins. It was one in which the Yankees looked to be out of it, and ended with them solidifying their dominance over the Twins and getting a ticket to the ALCS.
Final Score: Yankees 6, Twins 5
MVP: Rubén Sierra
Game 4 pitted Javier Vázquez for the Yankees against Minnesota’s Johan Santana. The Twins lefty was in the midst of one of the best pitching runs in recent baseball memory. He was on the heels of an ERA and strikeout crown for the 2004 season, and would go on to win the Cy Young as well. The Yankees had won two straight to go up 2-1 in the series, but if there was anyone that could turn it around for the Twins, it was Santana.
The scoring started early, as the Twins were able to scratch a run across in their half of the first, but both starters settled in for a scoreless second frame. In the top of the third, New York answered back. Hideki Matsui singled to score Derek Jeter and get them on the board, knotting the game at one.
Santana continued to cruise through the Yankee lineup, however, as he pitched two scoreless innings after Matsui broke the ice, and the offense had his back. The Twins would get four runs across off Vázquez in the fourth and fifth. The rally was fueled by a couple of sac flies, and a Henry Blanco solo shot in the fifth.
Both starters only got through the fifth inning. Santana was very good, as he struck out seven and allowed just the one run, while Vázquez floundered a bit, allowing five earned in as many innings. The Yankees bullpen was tasked with keeping the score where it was, and they couldn’t have done a better job. Esteban Loaiza gave up four hits but was able to get through two scoreless innings, while Grant Balfour did the same for the Twins, to keep this game at 5-1 headed into the eighth. As good as the ‘pen was, the Yankees still needed to rally at the plate.
In the top of the eighth, Gary Sheffield led off with an infield single off Juan Rincón, and Matsui followed it with a walk. Bernie Williams then cashed in on the opportunity by slashing a single into right-center, scoring Sheffield and moving Matsui to third. Jorge Posada struck out, and due up next was Rubén Sierra and his gigantic swing. He worked the count to 2-2, got a spinning breaker over the plate, and didn’t miss it.
In improbable fashion, the Yankees tied the game at five in the eighth inning, keeping the hope of ending the series that night alive.
Tom Gordon was able to get the Yanks through the eighth and ninth unscathed as part of the excellent bullpen effort, while Joe Nathan was tasked with mopping up after Rincón. After nine innings, we were all tied up at five. Mariano Rivera and Kyle Lohse were able to hop on the trend, keeping the game square with scoreless 10th frames. But in the 11th, with one out, Alex Rodriguez decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
He laced a double down the left field line, stole third base uncontested off the late-entering Pat Borders, and followed it all by scoring on a wild pitch to give the Yankees an extra inning lead.
They were unable to add to the lead, but as they had so many times, they looked to Rivera to close out the game and the series. As he has so often, he closed it out with a clean 11th inning to give the Yankees a series win against Minnesota.
The Yankees’ dominance over the Twins has been well-documented, many of the more epic examples have been featured in this top 25 series. This ALDS matchup was the last time the Twins won a playoff game (Game 1), and Game 4 was the dagger in their season. It was also the effective end of their playoff success, particularly against the Yankees, for nearly two decades and counting.