If there was any question as to whether "the ghosts" would follow their franchise across the street to the team's new digs, that question was answered resoundingly Friday night for the New York Yankees.
This game had everything.
There was ninth inning drama, a Jeffery Mayer-no call-level mistake by the umpire (ironically it was the anniversary of that incident), and a walk-off, extra inning home run in the 11th inning.
While the Twins have been the team benefiting from bad calls and coming up with dramatic hits, after this game they are looking like another footnote in the story of a New York Yankees club that is without question performing at a championship caliber level.
The attention before the game focused heavily on the catching situation for the Yankees, but the issue proved largely irrelevant.
New York starter AJ Burnett lasted six innings (giving up one run on three hits), and when he made his exit so did Jose' Molina after only one meaningless at bat that resulted in a ground out.
His replacement Jorge Posada did pick up a single in the 10th inning that could have been important (had they pushed him across), but essentially the two players who received the greatest pre-game attention had very little impact on the game itself.
Instead it was Alex Rodriguez who continued his tale of playoff-redemption (he is 4-8 with 1 HR and 5 RBIs). Going 2-for-4 on the day, A-Rod's two hits were crucial to the Yankees' win and set the stage for Mark Teixeira to eventually end the game with one final blow. In the sixth inning — after the Twins' broke the scoreless tie with a Brendan Harris triple that drove in Delmon Young — Alex promptly re-tied the game in the bottom of the inning, smacking a single to left that scored Derek Jeter from second base.
In the top of the eighth Minnesota again broke the tie, this time putting up two runs split between Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera (both charged to Hughes). But once again it was A-Rod who swooped in and muscled-up to rescue his team. Striding to the plate after a Mark Teixeira single to open the bottom of the 9th inning, Alex had star closer Joe Nathan to contend with as he himself represented the tying run.
Where Alex has failed in the past so many times, this time he rose to the occasion in a most profound way, smashing a two-run, game-tying home run to centerfield, and in the process, undoubtedly finally earning the Pinstripes he dawns every game in the eyes of many of the Yankee-faithful.
Alex sent the game into extra-innings with a profuse amount of ninth inning drama that would spill over directly into the innings that followed. First it was the Twins who once again backed the Yankees into a corner. In the top of the 10th, Minnesota put runners on first and third with two outs. But Alfredo Aceves was able to wriggle out of the jam (per usual this season).
In the bottom of the inning the Yankees returned fire, loading the bases with one out and the speedy Brett Gardner on third base. But with Johnny Damon at the plate — instead of laying down the squeeze that would seem logical given Gardner's speed and Damon's bunting ability — Joe Girardi let his leftfielder swing away. Damon scorched a line-drive but unfortunately it's destination was the shortstop's glove. And because Gardner broke for home on contact, the double play was easily achieved and the Twins likewise escaped the inning unscathed.
In the top of the 11th Minnesota wasted no time applying the pressure once again. Facing struggling lefty-specialist Damaso Marte, Joe Mauer came up to the plate looking to get the inning started off with some momentum for his team. This is where the Jeffrey Maier reference comes in. During the at bat Mauer ripped what should have been a ground rule double down the left field line. The ball was fair by a foot but the umpire missed the call, and Mauer had to settle for a single up the middle later in the at bat (Somewhere, Brandon Inge sneered a smile of vengeful satisfaction from his armchair at home.)
After a Jason Kubel single pushing Mauer to second, Girardi wisely removed Marte and turned to 24-year-old David Robertson to shut down the Twins' attack and get the Yankees back into a position to win the game. With a very thin bullpen, the Yankees' manager didn't have many other options. But the second year reliever proved more than prepared and able for the daunting, pressure-laden task that lay in front of him.
After throwing only 43 2/3 innings over the season, Robertson shined in the most important single inning of his career. After allowing a Michael Cuddyer single to center to load the bases with no outs, Robertson would bear down like a veteran reliever, getting Delmon Young to line out to first, Carlos Gomez to ground out on a fielder's choice to home, and Brendan Harris to pop out to right, ending the inning and bailing the Yankees out of a seemingly hopeless jam.
And then all of a sudden the end came fast. Like lighting crackling across the night sky, Mark Teixeira experienced his first memorable Yankee post-season moment in one of the most dramatic ways possible, spiking a line-drive home run that popped off of the top of the left field wall and careened into the stands.
Teixeira could have gone anywhere this past offseason and received a "big money" contract, but his own words reflect the uniqueness of moments like these while wearing the pinstripes and playing in front of the Bronx crowd; "I don't think there's anything better in sports," he said. "Best place to play in the world."
More importantly, it will prove to be a defining moment for both A-Rod and Teixeira as Yankees from a personal stand point and for this team as a whole (a squad that made a regular practice of late-inning comebacks during the regular season).
And with a 2-0 lead, the Yankees will now go to Minnesota to face former-beloved free agent signing Carl Pavano. Could there be a more satisfying way to put this tenacious Twins team away than to drop a Bronx-style bomb on Mr. Pavano to close the Metrodome once and for all?