Yankees 7, Twins 6
It always seems to happen this way in New York in the playoffs. A sure Yankees loss turns into a Yankees win. Yankee Stadium roars like no other, and so do its inhabitants.
Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid player in baseball who was brought to New York to deliver a championship, tied a game that had appeared lost in the 12th with his fourth hit. Hideki Matsui, the imported superstar from Japan who carries the gargantuan nickname "Godzilla," gave the Yankees a 7-6 win with a sacrifice fly against Joe Nathan, scoring Derek Jeter, saving the Yankees from an 0-2 hole in an American League Division Series. Instead the series heads to Minnesota tied at 1.
"It's a better trip now," muttered Yankees adviser Reggie Jackson as he wearily exited the stadium, nearly six hours after Wednesday's game began. "It would have been one long trip."
The game will certainly be hailed as Rodriguez's arrival in New York, his signature game as a Yankee. The day he appeared at ease in pinstripes. In his first year in New York, Rodriguez hit .286 with 36 home runs, but batted just .252 with runners in scoring position.
"Alex had a little trouble settling in here, but when you do this at Yankee Stadium in a postseason game, especially coming from behind, God only knows what it will do for him," Manager Joe Torre said. "This is obviously the biggest hit he's had for us."
Rodriguez went 4 for 6, including the game-tying double, and three RBI.
"I think it's important to win games," Rodriguez said. "What I do, to me, is a backdrop or a secondary story. Although it's fun to write about or get really into what guys are doing individually, it's all about winning games."
It will likely take the Twins some time to forget about a game they had appeared to win. It was a game that would have sent them to Minnesota with a stranglehold on the series.
"We're greedy," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "We wanted to be 2-0. But we have to accept 1-1."
Hunter's solo home run in the top of the 12th against Tanyon Sturtze sent his team into a celebration. It did not last long. Nathan, who had already pitched two scoreless innings of relief, appeared tired in the 12th. With one out, he walked Miguel Cairo and Jeter, setting up the dramatic comeback. It was the only bad mark for the Minnesota bullpen, which had pitched 42/3 scoreless innings before the 12th.
"I told [the coaches] I felt good," Nathan said. "I was more disappointed in the walks. I got the first out, then I lost it for the next two hitters."
"He told us he wanted it," Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's our closer. We know we tried to extend him a little bit, but it's the time of year you have to do that."
The Yankees' sense of urgency in Game 2 rang loudly when Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to pitch with one out in the eighth inning and two men on base.
Rivera inherited a mess left by reliever Tom Gordon. Jacque Jones had reached base against Gordon when a third strike got past Jorge Posada. Hunter singled, sending Jones to second. Against Rivera, rookie Justin Morneau hit a bloop single over second baseman Cairo, scoring Jones. Corey Koskie followed with a double, scoring Hunter and tying the game at 5.
The Yankees got a break when Koskie's double landed in the left field stands. Had it not been ruled an automatic double, pinch runner Luis Rivas would have likely scored the go-ahead run. It was the first blown save in 13 postseason chances for Rivera at Yankee Stadium.
"I don't know what to think," Rivera said. "I'm human. It bothers me. The team gave me a two-run lead and suddenly it disappeared."
For an entire year the Yankees have heard the criticism their team was too dependent on the home run, that they were nothing more than a glorified beer-league team with multimillion-dollar players. On Wednesday their reliance on the home run saved them from falling into a frightening hole. After a night of quiet slumber in Game 1, the Yankees' bats spoke loudly on Wednesday. New York hit three home runs, all by the top of the lineup.
Jeter launched a towering home run to center field in the first inning that landed in the black portion of the stands in center field, becoming only the 19th player since Yankee Stadium's renovation in 1976 to hit a home run to that area.
In the third with Rodriguez on first base, Gary Sheffield sent a Brad Radke pitch into the left field stands to tie the game at 3. The game continued tied until the fifth inning, when Rodriguez sent a home run to left field, giving the Yankees a 4-3 lead. It was the first playoff home run in Yankee pinstripes for Rodriguez and Sheffield. Rodriguez added an RBI single in the seventh.
"Alex came up big," Sheffield said. "He showed why he's the best player in the game."
Hunter seemed surprisingly at ease after the game. He refused to believe there were ghosts that somehow led the Yankees to wins during bleak moments. Instead it is a lineup that includes Rodriguez that makes these types of comebacks possible. They were not beaten by aura, but by A-Rod.
"I don't think it's a mystique," Hunter said. "I just think these guys can play. These guys are clutch hitters. There is no mystique."