The Twins won their division in dramatic fashion last night, as I had hoped they would, since the Yankees have owned the Minnesota Twins for the last several years. As I wrote after the Yanks swept the Twins in May:
Amazingly, the Yankees have dominated the Twins in this millennium, winning 40 out of 58 contests in the regular season, plus six of eight in the postseason, for an overall record of 46-20 since 2001. This is the second best winning percentage they have against any team in the AL in that span, behind only the dismal Kansas City Royals.My theory on that was essentially that the Yankees have tended to be very good at hitting homers, while the Twins have not been particularly good at preventing them. The same was true this year, as the Yankees led the major leagues in hitting homers, while the Twins allowed the second most in the AL, and the 5th most in the majors. That's a combination that could lead to some fireworks, as we've already seen in tonight's game, with homers by Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui, though admittedly neither of the runners who were on base for those got there by a walk.
When it comes to run prevention, the Twins manage to maintain respectability by allowing very few walks and playing good defense, and 2009 was no different. They allowed the fewest walks, the fewest errors and the fewest unearned runs in the American League this year. So sure, they allow homers, but they don't give away outs or baserunners, so the homers don't hurt so much. Unfortunately for them, the Yankees' hitters led the majors in walks, so keeping them off the bases isn't so easy.
Generally, I'm of the opinion that Ron Gardenhire is a heck of a manager. His team seems to outperform its run differential just about every year, and he seems to get surprisingly good performances out of teams that consist of one or two stars and a bunch of guys that most people have never heard of.
But I had to wonder in the 5th inning, with Jeter on second base and two out, what he was thinking. He had first base open and needed only one out to escape the inning still down by only one run, and Alex Rodriguez coming up, followed by Hideki Matsui. "Matsui" as you may already know, is a Japanese word thet roughly translates to "grounder to second", something that he had already done twice in the game. "Brian Duensing" may not be the best known or sexiest name a Game One starter could have, but he's got a fastball with some movement, and that movement had already induced Matsui to produce two of his patented ground ball outs.
Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez is still, you know, Alex Rodriguez. You know: 3-time AL MVP, a batting title, five home run titles, more home runs than Mickey Mantle or Mike Schmidt, etc. Ok, so he hasn't gotten a postseason hit with runners in scoring position since Game 3 in the 2004 ALCS. That's, like, 18 at-bats, spread out over four seasons. Which is nothing.
Much more important, I would think, is the fact that he's had an OBP well above .400 with runners in scoring position in each of the last five regular seasons. Covering more than a thousand plate appearances. Nevertheless, Gardenhire, even after going out to the mound to talk to Duensing and Mauer, decided to pitch to A-Rod, and Rodriguex hit an RBI single to right.
The smart move would have been to intentionally walk him and try to get Matsui to ground out a third time, though with that said, Matsui hit a two-run homer to dead center off Felipe Liriano, so maybe it wouldn't have made any difference at all, but it still surprises me that Gardy would have chosen to let A-Rod hit in that spot rather than let his finesse lefty face the grounder-prone Matsui instead.
Since the Twins never did score another run and it looks like they're about to win, 7-2, it may not have mattered at all, but perhaps if Gardenhire has been listening to all the anti-hype about A-Rod, he'll take that stuff a little less seriously for the rest of the series.