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For change's sake, Gardenhire should have changed pitcher


MINNEAPOLIS -- Look, a new and different twist to an ancient story: The Yankees moved outdoors in lovely Minnesota to pummel the Twins in yet another AL Division Series game.

Up in the sky wasn't a Teflon roof, but a pitch black October night.

Over the right-field fence, if you kept looking beyond where Mark Teixeira's game-changing rocket landed in the seventh, were skyscrapers and quite a scenic portion of the Minneapolis skyline. No baggie in sight.

On the scoreboard, same ol', same ol'.

Yankees 6, Twins 4 in Game 1 of their AL Division Series.

After going 5-0 in playoff games in the Metrodome, the Yankees showed the Twins they can roll 'em over and tickle their belly on real grass, too.

From a Twins-Yankees perspective, the first outdoor postseason game in Minnesota since 1970 was no newer than a Plymouth Valiant or a Glen Campbell 45.

And here's the thing: It didn't have to have the same ending.

Twins starter Francisco Liriano was brilliant for five innings and the Twins led 3-0.

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But Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire tried to nurse the young lefty through the sixth.


"He was locating the ball really well," Gardenhire said. "In the sixth, he got pitches up and they didn't miss."

Against a deep and lethal Yankees lineup -- OK, well Brett Gardner is neither -- it is better to pull a starting pitcher one batter too early than one batter too late. We've seen this movie before, over and over, usually on the YES Network. Teixeira, or Alex Rodriguez, or Robinson Cano crushing a walk-off homer or a rally-punctuating double and the Yankees are celebrating while the stooges in the field are hanging their heads.

For five innings, Liriano was no stooge.

But after fanning Nick Swisher to open the sixth, Liriano, who had retired 16 of 20 Yankees to that point, served up a double to Teixeira, wild-pitched Teixeira to third, walked A-Rod and allowed an RBI single to Cano.

Then, after striking out Marcus Thames, Jorge Posada ripped an RBI single to make it 3-2.

In the bullpen, right-hander Jesse Crain and lefty Jose Mijares were warming.

Up stepped Curtis Granderson, who promptly whacked a 2-1 fastball high off the right-field wall for a two-run triple. The Yankees led 4-3 and over a six-batter span -- Liriano's third trip through the New York order -- the entire game changed.

Granderson's was not the game-winner -- not technically. The Twins would tie the game in the bottom of the sixth by scratching a run off CC Sabathia before Teixeira settled things with the two-run homer in the seventh against Crain.

But this one was lost when the Twins failed to slow the damage and prevent the Yankees from hanging a four-spot on the board in the sixth.

"I think Liriano deserved a chance to get Granderson out," Gardenhire said. "He hits, like, .180 off of him. You take your starter out in a situation like that, it is not the right thing to do. We were trying to get through it and I had all the confidence in the world he could get Granderson out.

"It's his ballgame. ... It's our ace. I don't want to jerk him out. Let him have a shot, that's what he is supposed to be here for."

But part of the Twins' strength this series, part of why this year they think they have a chance to change their abysmal postseason history against the Yankees, is because of a loaded bullpen. It is the Twins' deepest in years.

With two outs in the sixth, the Twins were 10 outs away from winning Game 1.

Besides Crain and Mijares, the Twins also had lefty Brian Fuentes, righty Jon Rauch and closer Matt Capps.

It is a crime that Gardenhire has yet to win an AL Manager of the Year award, and if he doesn't win this year's, there should be an investigation. But against a team that has haunted the Twins in October worse than a headless horseman, this was not his finest moment.

True, Granderson was hitting .182 [4 for 22] against Liriano with one home run and one double.

But it is also true that Liriano was at 102 pitches and was on the ropes in need of a corner man. And that Granderson, after taking a few games off in August while struggling to work with hitting coach Kevin Long, showed vast improvement against righties and lefties in September. Granderson slugged nine home runs and collected 25 RBI over the season's final month.

For his part, Granderson said he was not surprised Liriano stayed in the game to face him once the Twins didn't bring Crain in to face the batter in front of him, Jorge Posada. Then, Granderson said, it was pretty clear they would leave the left-handed Liriano in to face him.

Neither Granderson nor the Twins thought the first-year Yankee got Liriano's fastball enough to do such damage.

"I thought it would be caught, the way [Denard] Span was backing up under it," Granderson said.

"Off the bat, it seemed like -- not a lazy fly ball, but I thought I would be able to catch it at the wall," Span said. "When it kept going, I thought maybe I'd have to jump at the end to catch it."

No dice.

"The ball carried better than everyone said it did here," Granderson said. "Maybe it's because it's later in the season."

Or maybe it's just the Yankees.

The Yankees are deep. They wear you down. They are the last two hours of an eight-hour car ride to see grandma. The first six hours are all giddy anticipation and sightseeing. It's the last two that are miserable.

Minnesota's big bullpen should be an advantage here, giving the Twins' pitching staff the depth it hasn't had in past years.

Instead, in Game 1 at least, same old result.

"We don't look at their roster and their lineup and say, 'We're already beat,' " said Michael Cuddyer, whose two-run homer in the second brought the loudest roar of the night from the Target Field sellout crowd of 42,032. "By no means do we do that."

But the Yankees have never lost a postseason game in the Twin Cities. They've won nine of 11 all time against the Twins. And with a one-game lead now in this series, they're threatening to eliminate the Twins for the fourth time since 2003.

Including the regular season, the Yankees now have won 15 of their past 17 games against the Twins.

They've beaten the Twins here, there and everywhere: In the Dome, at home, in a poem, everywhere but Rome.

What is it?

"I wish I could tell you," Cuddyer said. "Then we'd be able to change it.

"We've got to figure out a way to win. It's like we play just good enough until the very end. That's the way it was today."

Overall, the Twins now have lost 10 consecutive playoff games. Gardenhire's postseason managerial record now is 6-18.

On the front page of the New York Daily News the other day, the large, tabloid headline read: "E-Z Pass. Bad news: Yankees must go on road for playoffs. Good news: They play the Twins."

Cuddyer is the lone remaining Twin who goes all the way back to 2003, the first of the successive playoff eliminations suffered at the hands of the Yankees.

"You're frustrated," he said. "It hurts. It stings. It takes a long time to get over, no doubt.

"Hopefully, we figure out a way to win."


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