10/09/2004 8:55 PM ET
Twins ousted from ALDS
Eliminated after battling Yankees in extra innings
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
|Henry Blanco rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning Saturday. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins could already anticipate playing Game 5. They could imagine taking the flight to New York. They could almost feel the chill of the October air they might feel inside Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
Ahead by a 5-1 score, they just needed two more innings to put the Yankees away in Game 4 and force a deciding Game 5 in the American League Division Series.
"I thought we were going back to New York," Twins third baseman Corey Koskie said.
"I was ready to get on that plane and pitch a good game [Sunday]," said Brad Radke, scheduled to pitch Game 5 for Minnesota.
But a three-run homer by Ruben Sierra off Juan Rincon in the top of the eighth abruptly jolted the Twins from their pleasant daydream. Sierra's blast over the right-field fence capped a four-run inning and tied the game. Forced into extras, Kyle Lohse's wild pitch in the top of the 11th inning scored Alex Rodriguez and delivered a demoralizing reality.
Minnesota lost, 6-5, Saturday to be eliminated by New York from the best-of-five series, 3-1.
"I thought we had a chance, that this was going to be the year we could have had it," said Koskie, who hit .308 in the series. "That's what I am really disappointed about. I thought we were going to beat them."
Instead, Minnesota was bounced out of the ALDS in four games by New York for the second-straight year.
With one out in the 11th, Rodriguez lined a double down the
left-field line. He stole third base to set up the winning run. Lohse had Gary Sheffield in a 2-2 count, when a slider low and away got away from catcher Pat Borders. Rodriguez easily scored.
"I tried to throw it in the dirt down and away," said Lohse (0-1). "I was too short. Pat just wasn't able to get a glove on it.
"It just got away."
A fitting theme for the Twins during this series.
"The hardest thing is we had them on the ropes," said center fielder Torii Hunter, who hit .353 in the four games. "We could have won."
It was Hunter's huge Game 2 home run in the top of the 12th inning that had Minnesota about to leave Yankee Stadium with a 2-0 lead in the series. Needing just two outs to lock down the game, New York scored twice off Joe Nathan in the bottom of the 12th to win and get the split.
The Twins never fully recovered from that turnaround, and won't soon forget it.
"It goes through my mind all the time," Hunter said. "In the offseason, there might be times when I punch the wall just to let it out."
"I look at it now, and it's something that's going to be with me quite a lot this offseason," Koskie said.
Game 1 winner Johan Santana returned Saturday on three days' rest. Santana pitched five innings and allowed one run on five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. But Yankees hitters took a more patient approach and made the lefty throw 87 pitches to get him out of the game.
"They tried to wear me out," said Santana, who was 20-6 this season with a 2.61 ERA. "They were taking some pitches, taking full counts."
Without departed veterans Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte or David Wells, many believed the Yankees' pitching staff of Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez was vulnerable.
But until Sunday, the Twins' lineup failed to put together any meaningful rallies vs. New York pitchers and often played themselves out of innings. The club left 28 men stranded on base during the series, 19 in scoring position. In Game 4, they were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"They got a few more big hits than we got," Twins right fielder Jacque Jones said. "That's why they're celebrating. That's why we're going home."
Nevertheless, a second ALDS win for Santana seemed nearly assured in the bottom of the fifth. Henry Blanco hit a leadoff home run to left field off Vazquez and Lew Ford's two-run double to the left-field wall made it a four-run game.
After reliever Grant Balfour threw perfect sixth and seventh innings, Twins clubhouse workers began mobilizing and packed up for the journey to New York.
"They gave us more than we could handle," said Sheffield of the Twins. "They're a special team over there."
But Rincon immediately ran into trouble in the eighth, when Sheffield led off with broken-bat, infield single. Hideki Matsui walked and Bernie Williams hit an RBI single to center field.
With one out, Rincon had Sierra in a 1-2 count, but never picked up strike three. Sierra looked at ball two and fouled off a pitch before smoking a 2-2 slider for the game-tying, three-run homer. The instant the ball cleared the fence, much of the intensity from the vibrant crowd of 52,498 at the Metrodome went with it.
"It's disbelief," Ford said. "They just keep coming back and keep coming at you. I was stunned when Sierra hit the home run."
"You can't have too many mistakes with these guys," Rincon said. "One is too many."
Ultimately, a few defensive miscues led to the Yankees taking the lead for good in the 11th inning. Just before Rodriguez's double, Koskie backed off guarding the third base line. He had no chance to make a play.
"We put him on the line and he moved off a little bit for the pitch and didn't feel the guy was going to hit the ball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The kid made a mistake."
Lohse and Borders also missed a chance to catch Rodriguez stealing.
"We were trying to get him to pick up his leg and do an inside move," Gardenhire said. "We were giving the sign. It just didn't work out. If he had picked up his leg on that pitch [he stole on], we would've had him. That didn't work out. We had pretty good plans. We just didn't execute."
Then came the wild pitch.
"Borders should've blocked that ball," Gardenhire said.
"That's not the reason we lost the game," Hunter said. "We lost because we made mistakes and they took advantage of it. They're a good club. You have to give those guys all the credit in the world. They took advantage of our mistakes."
Which is why the Yankees are moving on to play the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. And the Twins are headed home for the winter.
A little sooner than expected.
"I didn't think they would be able to come back today," Shannon Stewart said. "Talking about it now, they did it."
And now, they have all winter to think about it.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.