Twins blow another lead to the Yankees in Game 1 loss

In contrast with the Twins' past playoff losses to the Yankees, the grass was new, as was the sky, the seats, the surroundings. Hell, even the hotdogs were different. But the result remained the same.

For the seventh time in as many postseason games against New York dating to the 2004 American League Divisional Series, the Twins led the Yankees. And for the sixth straight game in that sad stretch, the local nine relinquished their advantage, falling 6-4 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

The loss advanced the Twins' playoff losing streak to 10 consecutive games.  The inauspicious streak ties for the third-longest in postseason history.

With the morning announcement of Randy Moss returning to the Vikings, our Twin Cities took on a palpable sporting buzz with the impending onset of this series . . . only to conclude the eve with another baseball hangover for the Twins.  Francisco Liriano, making his first playoff start, coasted through five shutout innings as the Twins took a 3-0 lead into the top of the 6th, the runs accrued via a Michael Cuddyer two-run homer in the second and a savvy series of base running plays by Orlando Hudson in the third.

And then, in the time it takes to buy a Murray's steak sandwich, it was gone.  The Yanks ended Liriano's run of ten consecutive retired batters with five of the next six batsmen reaching against the Twins lefty, taking a 4-3 lead via Curtis Granderson's two-run triple off the wall in right center.  The Twins answered in the bottom half with a combo of three walks mixed with a Cuddyer double off New York starter CC Sabathia to notch the score at 4's, but shortstop J.J. Hardy struck out with the bases loaded to conclude the rally.

Hope was short-lived thereafter, as Pinstripe slugger Mark Teixeira wrapped a two-run homer around the right field foul pole off a woeful Jesse Crain to provide the ultimate final outcome.  Hardy's at-bat in the 6th -- the final hitter faced by Sabathia -- portended the Twins inability to gather timely hits in the last three innings, as they left five runners on base (10 all told) versus Yankee relievers.

To advance the stress: local cable networks went black for a two-minute span in the bottom of the eighth during a Jason Kubel walk earned off of Kerry Wood.  With two outs and two on, luminary Yankee closer Mariano Rivera entered and retired Denard Span on six pitches.  In the last of the ninth, Delmon Young was incorrectly awarded a hit on a ball to right caught by sub Greg Golson allowing Jim Thome to come to the plate with a chance to tie the contest.  Yet Thome ended the game by popping out to third as "The Sandman" put the night to rest with his MLB-record 40th postseason save.

The Twins now have the unenviable task of taking a game in New York to win the best-of-five series, which continues tonight in Minneapolis before moving to New York on Saturday.  It goes without saying that losing Game 2 is not an option.  Here's how the matchup sets up:

ALDS Game 2 -- New York Yankees @ Minnesota Twins, 5:07 p.m. Central, Target Field (on TBS)
Andy Pettitte (LHP, 11-3, 3.28 ERA) vs. Carl Pavano (RHP, 17-11, 3.75)

In Pettitte, the Twins face their second lefty in as many days and a 38-year-old vet of 40 playoff starts.  Tonight's 41st outing, along with Pettitte's 18 postseason wins and 249 innings, are all MLB playoff records.  Such numbers are somewhat skewed, of course, given the advance of playoff rounds in the modern game.  But there's no denying that Pettitte and his 18-9 postseason record chart him as one of the most deservedly celebrated playoff performers (not just pitchers) of all time.

The Twins are no stranger to his postseason acumen.  Tonight's Game 2 etches a rematch of

last season's ALDS Game 3, when Pettitte outdueled Pavano in the Yanks' 4-1, series clinching win.  Dating to their 2003 meet, the victory marked Pettite's second playoff win over the Twins in as many starts.  Seven years back, he tallied a Quality Start in New York's 4-1 win over the Twins and Brad Radke.

While Pettitte's 2010 began with aplomb, injuries have limited him to a mere four starts since the All Star break.  And although his 2010 numbers look sharp as a whole, Target Field will see a guy that hasn't corralled a Win since July 8th.  In those four starts since suffering a groin strain that shelved him for two months, Pettitte has allowed 13 earned runs in just over 15 innings of work.

Despite the mid-to-late season absence, Pettitte still managed to face the Twins twice this season, felling them on both occasions over an 11 day stretch in May.  In those wins, he painted a combined line of: 14.1 IP, 2 Earned Runs, 10 Hits, 3 BB's, and 6 K's. 

Lefties hit Pettitte at a mere .186 clip this year, although further signs of Twins hope can be found in the combined left handed clips of Denard Span and Joe Mauer, who together hit the Yankee at a .308 (8-for-26) lifetime line.  Ample Twin righties have also fared well versus Pettitte, led by Delmon Young's .579 (11-for-19) and Michael Cuddyer's .389 (7-for-18).

Pavano had little to shave about in last year's ALDS duel, taking the Loss after a solid 7 inning, 2 run effort.  This eve marks his 10th career playoff appearance and fourth postseason start.  As a Florida Marlin, his stellar 2003 World Series against the Yanks segued to the

finest season of his career which, of course, led to his maligned four-year stretch in Pinstripes.  After signing a 4-year/$39.95 million contract with New York, injuries found Pavano a perennially wounded animal in the Bronx Zoo.  In his time as a Yankee, he made a mere 26 starts in his Bronx cage, winning just nine games during that troubled time.

What resonates with me with Pavano is that -- while not a strikeout pitcher -- he notched nine K's in that playoff start last year.  For him, that's huge.  He's hasn't reached the tally since and that total marked his highest K count since (really) August of 2003.  Pavano is the thesis is of Twins' pitch-to-contact philosophy, ranking tops among all MLB starters in first pitch strike percentage (67.9) and 22nd in batted ball contact (84 percent). 

A legit Cy candidiate at the onset of August, Pavano has indeed showed some slow over the course of that past two months, but let us hope that performance in last year's ALDS portends some renewed juice.  A strong (and long, given his seven Complete games) showing would come as little surprise, as Yank batsmen Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez combine for a mere 3-for-22 (.136) lifetime line against Pavano.

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