Pettitte masterful as Yanks take Game 2 from Twins

The vibe in downtown Minneapolis favored nervous apprehension over bare enthusiasm late Thursday afternoon as fans filled Target Field for Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series.

After the Twins dropped Game 1 to the New York Yankees 6-4 on Wednesday eve, the communal knowing that nearly 75 percent of the Game 1 loser in these five-game sets fails to advance seemed to float through the playoff air as much as the scent of hot dogs or the call for programs.

Three hours later, said apprehension morphed into blunt anger and confusion as the Twins lost their 11th consecutive playoff game, falling to the Yanks 5-2.  The defeat marked the eighth consecutive postseason defeat to New York, dating to 2004.  And like the previous seven losses, the Twins scored first in the contest, only to eventually relinquish their advantage to the Pinstripes.

Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte evidenced none of the residue of his injured/awful second half of 2010, collecting his MLB-record 19th postseason win.  While the Twins were able to tally a run off the Yankee lefty for a 1-0 lead in the second inning, Pettitte quickly became economic with his pitch count and promptly retired 12 consecutive Twin batsmen from the bottom of the second through the latter frame of the sixth.

Pettitte's run was snapped by an Orlando Hudson solo home run that tied the score at 2-2 with one away in the bottom of the sixth, but after that moment of rare excitement whatever Homer Hankies that waved about Target Field appeared nothing more than white flags.

The ensuing inning, New York DH Lance Berkman followed up his solo homer in the fifth off of Twins starter Carl Pavano with a two-bagger that scored Jorge Posada, giving the Yankees a 3-2 edge.  Berkman's double followed a controversial non-call third strike by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt on a 1-2 count, which soon boiled over to manager Ron Gardenhire's ejection.

Pettitte's line of 7 IP and 2 earned runs mirrored his past playoff success against the Twins in both 2003 and 2009, where he basically schooled the club in similar fashion.  Over the course of the final two innings against New York relievers Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera, Twin hitters mustered a mere Joe Mauer single off of the Yankee closer in the ninth.  For the eve all told, the local nine mustered just six hits and one walk.

Pavano turned in a sound if not spectacular performance, allowing four runs on 10 hits over 6+ innings.  He took the loss after holding New York scoreless for the first three innings.

On a personal note, gentle readers, I look over my pile of papers from the spectacular regular season that was resting beside tonight's scorecard and solemnly think: The Twins busted their ass for six months and in a span of 24 hours -- Poof.  I trust this mirthless sensation and hollow gut are shared by many.  I can offer you every damn stat, prediction, interview and reflection that I can get my hands around (and I will), but the blunt and bare fact of this matchup is that the Yankees are better.  They're better than the Minnesota Twins.  Over the course of six months, perhaps not.  But amidst the pressure, nuance, and needed momentum of playoff baseball -- I know I don't stand alone in wishing the Twins were flying to an alternate east coast destination for Saturday night.

I don't believe that a comeback from this 0-2 deficit is beyond the Twins, but the fact that just four teams have ever won a Division Series by winning the final three games is a most sobering consideration.  Of those four, only the 2001 Yankees have accomplished the feat after dropping Games 1 and 2 at home.

Yet such is the task the Twins now face.  And the journey for redemption begins tomorrow night.  Here's how the meet sets up:

ALDS Game 3, Minnesota Twins @ New York Yankees, Saturday, October 9th, 7:37 p.m. Central, Yankee Stadium (on TBS)
Brian Duensing (LHP, 10-3, 2.62 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (RHP, 18-8 4.19)

In his second season in the Bigs, Duensing again made a sweet segue from the pen to the rotation.  The guy has still made just 22 regular season starts, yet offers a fine 12-3 lifetime line in that role.  Saturday marks his second career start against New York; his first coming in last season's ALDS Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

Although Duensing's line from that loss looks poor (4.2 IP, 5 ER, 7 Hits, 3 BB), the

impression made on Twins fans was that the dude could handle himself.  In what was the postseason debut for the Bronx cathedral, Duensing got through 2.1 scoreless innings before running into trouble in the third, compliments of a Derek Jeter home run.

Like fellow staffers Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, Duensing's 2010 concluded on a sour note.  But for the wealth of the campaign he was solid in both relief and starting roles, ultimately holding opposing hitters to a mere .247 average with lefties clipping at a lowly .162 against him.  For his brief career, left handers hit Duensing at just .192.

Given his Twin pedigree, it's little surprise that he's a fine control pitcher and one who namely keeps the ball on the turf (52.9 percent of batted balls are grounders).  That doesn't mean he's not prone to giving up the occasional long ball (18 hit against him in 214+ regular season innings), nor does it dictate that he's developed any rep for going long in games.  Duensing owns just one career complete game to date, and has gone seven-plus innings on only seven occasions.

Yankee batsmen offer polar results against the lefty.  Combined: Jeter, Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson are 12-for-29 (.413) against Duensing lifetime.  Balancing the scales finds A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and Brett Garner clipping at a lowly .143 (2-for-14) rate.

Hughes is a poster boy for why the Win stat isn't as important as it looks.  Sure, his 18

victories this year tied him for fourth in the AL, but looking past the gaudy W total finds him with the more telling number of 6.8 -- that's the average runs scored by his offense in games Hughes started.  That mark is the tops in all of baseball.  In addition, of Hughes' 29 starts this year, just 15 registered as Quality, charting him at a diminutive 52 percent, bad for 86th among baseball starters.  After a solid first half of the year when he went 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA, Hughes was just 7-6 with a bloated 4.90 ERA after the All Star break.

Saturday marks Hughes' 12th career playoff appearance, although it's also his first postseason start.  While he hasn't faced the Twins this season, last year he opposed the Boys via relief appearances in all three ALDS games.  Sandwiched between solid performances in Games 1 and 3 was a rocky Game 2 outing that saw him struggling to the line of: 0.2 IP, 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 BB.  The damage was done by fellas who are no longer rostered as Twins (Carlos Gomez and Brendan Harris) along with a guy who has yet to see the field this postseason in Nick Punto, who also tallied a double off of Hughes in Game 3.  It will be interesting to see of Gardy plays to this with his Saturday lineup.  Among other Twins with past success versus Hughes: Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young provide a combined .500 (6-for-12) lifetime line.

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