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Minneapolis, Minn. — The Twins held a 5-1 lead at the start of the eighth inning, but the Yankees came back to tie the game in the eighth and then claimed their second extra-inning victory of the series by winning in the eleventh.
Falling behind and then coming back to win is something of a habit for the Yankees. They won 101 games during the regular season and a majority of them -- 61 to be exact -- were comeback victories.
They started the playoffs by losing their opening game with the Twins but they then came from behind three games in a row to send the Twins home, where they might watch on television as the Yankees again battle the Boston Red Sox for a spot in the World Series.
Even with their track record of comeback victories, Yankees Manager Joe Torre says he still marvels at his team after games like this one, in which they beat Manager Ron Gardenhire's Twins in front of a hostile Metrodome crowd...
"Every game like this, you think you've never seen one like it and then all of a sudden another one crops up. This one today was probably as unlikely as any of them. Esepcailly playing here and being down 5-1 and knowing how good Gardy's bullpen is," Torre said.
In the eleventh, it was Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez who almost singlehandedly produced the winning run. Rodriguez hit a double just inside the third base foul line. He then stole third base and scored on a wild pitch by the Twins' Kyle Lohse. The Yankees are the highest paid team in baseball and Rodriguez is the highest paid player on the team. But Rodriguez says when the Yankees fall behind, they pull together with an exuberance that might be expected of a group of amateurs.
"It's relentless. I've never been around a bunch of guys that believed so much in themselves. I think we have 25 guys with big, big hearts. And no matter what the score is. 5 to 1 and you should have heard our dugout in the 8th. We thought we were going to win this game. It felt like a college team out there," he said.
Some Minnesota fans may have felt like they were watching a college team when the Twins let a potential playoff victory slip through their fingers. To be fair, though, the Twins played well most of the afternoon. Pitchers Johan Santana, Grant Balfour, and Joe Nathan were strong and the team scored three runs in the fifth inning on the strength of a Henry Blanco home run and a bases-loaded double by Lew Ford.
Gardenhire was generally complimentary of his team and the effort they put forth. But there were a few costly mistakes. One was the pitch that the Twins' Juan Rincon served up to New York's Ruben Sierra in the eighth inning. Sierra hit it over the right field wall with two runners on base to tie the game.
Then in the decisive eleventh inning, Gardenhire says there were a couple of miscues on the field. The first occurred with the Yankees' Rodriguez at bat. Gardenhire says his coaches had signaled third baseman Corey Koskie to position himself close to the foul line. But Koskie then edged away from the line, closer to the middle of the field. Gardenhire says Koskie's move became costly because it opened up enough space for Rodriguez to hit the ball between the fielder and the foul line for an extra base hit.
"My coaching staff had put him on the line and he backed off of it. He just made a mistake. We put him on the line and he moved off looking for the pitch and didn't feel the guy was going to hit the ball down there. He just made a mistake. The kid made a mistake," Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire says a few pitches later, coaches suspected Rodriguez was going to try to steal third and were trying to alert Twins catcher Pat Borders to that possibility, but Borders did not get the signal. A few pitches after that, Lohse threw a pitch that bounced in front of home plate and when Borders was unable to block it, the ball rolled to the backstop while Rodriguez scampered home with what proved to be the winning run.
For the Twins this year's playoff performance was a repeat of last year's. In each case they opened the playoffs by beating New York in Yankee Stadium only to lose the next three games, two of them at home in Minneapolis. The Twins had lost 11 players from last year's team, though, so they surprised many in the basball world even by making a return trip to the playoffs.
After his team ended Minnesota's baseball season, Joe Torre praised the Twins. In particular he lauded Gardenhire's ability to get the most out of his players' talents. Torre managed the New York Mets 23 years ago, when Gardenhire began his brief major league playing career.
"He was a hard-nosed player when he played and he certainly -- these players trust him. And we respect these guys a great deal because they play fundamentally sound baseball," Torre said.
As for Gardenhire, he says he told his team to expect some criticism for losing to the Yankees again. And he was defiant in instructing his players not to let it bother them.
"Just like I told my baseball team in the clubhouse, people might try to tear us down and say 'You didn't do this, you didn't do that.' But you know what? The people that are going to do that didn't play the New York Yankees out on that baseball field. Didn't play against that baseball team and don't realize how good that baseball team is. So don't let them tear this baseball team down. We're a damn good baseball team," Gardenhire said.