Led by the Captain Derek Jeter, the Yankees christened their new ball park on the night of its first playoff display, thundering to a dominating 7-2 win over the Central Division champion Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.
Featuring themes of tradition, redemption, and refined execution, the Yankees captured the incredibly important first game of the five-game series. And from a physiological and thematic standpoint, the win made a statement that there are prominent differences between the overrated, power dependent, pitching deficient squads that have folded in the playoffs every year since 2002 and this current Yankees incarnation.
In the bottom of the third it was the Twins who drew first blood, silencing the Bronx crowd by taking a 2-run lead on pitcher CC Sabathia. The park had the feel of Fenway with the "here we go again" look firmly implanted on the faces of most in attendance. Even 103 wins can't repair the scars of nearly 10 years of playoff disappointments. That job was left, as it traditionally has been at playoff time, to Derek Jeter.
After centerfielder Melky Cabrera reached on an infield single with one out the Yankees' captain stepped into the batters box, already 1-for-1 on the day. Even with the popular Jeter up, the mood at the park was subdued. But with one swing of the bat this would change in an instant. Abandoning his usual inside-out style, Derek crushed a Brian Duensing fastball left out over the plate, depositing the ball deep into the left field seats, and tying the game 2-2. Jeter would finish the day 2-for-2 with two walks, but no hit was bigger in this ball game than his 3rd inning smash.
With two outs in the bottom of the 4th the Yankees' showed off the depth of their lineup when Nick Swisher gave Sabathia a one-run lead with a slashing line-drive single to left that scored Robinson Cano. That would be all the Yankees starter Sabathia would need. And that's where the redemption theme comes in.
CC Sabathia is a player that, while universally respected for his immense skill, is widely criticized for his struggles in the postseason. Before Wednesday night, Sabathia started five postseason games and had a 2-3 record with a gaudy 7.92 ERA to go with a bloated 2.20 WHIP. In three different seasons with Cleveland and later Milwaukee, Sabathia continually struggled to find any kind of success in October, to the point where it had become the main point of contention sighted by his critics (and/or those of the Yankees) and those who felt him to be overvalued or overrated.
But in this game against the Twins Sabathia was everything the Yankees hoped he would be, pitching like the true ace that he always has been, just this time a little later in the season. Going 6 2/3 innings Sabathia simply over-powered the Twins lineup, striking out eight while surrendering only two runs (one earned) on eight hits, walking no one. The eight hits aren't outstanding, but Sabathia stayed around the strike zone all night — resulting in the hit count — and was able to use his immense power and nasty breaking ball to fight his way out of the few jams he faced. Other than the third inning, the Twins were thoroughly held in check and, at times, overwhelmed. This was the game Sabathia needed to remove the stigma of his play-off impotence.
The other obvious player in need of redemption (in more ways than one, but we'll keep it in the playoff production sense) was Alex Rodriguez. And in his first at bat A-Rod continued his futility, popping out to end the first inning, and stranding Derek Jeter on second base.
But in the fifth inning everything finally broke Alex's way. After Derek Jeter reached on a walk, A-Rod came to the plate with two outs. With the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead Alex finally finally came through, driving an RBI single to left. The crowd went crazy, his ego was stroked, and A-Rod finally snapped into the mindset necessary to produce in October/November. A suggestion he further justified with his 7th inning single — scoring Jeter on by a walk once again — that capped the Yankees' 7-2 win. Obviously one game doesn't make up for displays like his 2006 performance against Detroit (.077 avg in 14 at bats) but it's a step in the right direction, and should do wonders for Alex fragile psyche which usually translates to on-the-field success.
The rest of the game was standard Yankee-fare circa 2009. The bullpen was outstanding, with Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, and Joba Chamberlain shutting down the Twins for 2 1/3. The only tense moment came when Hughes entered the game with two outs in the top of seventh and runners on second and third. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera gave him a tough at bat but inventively Hughes won the battle, striking Cabrera out with nasty high 90's fastball low and away, continuing his mastery out of the bullpen.
Mariano Rivera capped off the game, getting in some work (because of the off day on Thursday) and the Yankees cruised to a 1-0 lead in the ALDS, giving The New Yankee Stadium its first story in what will eventually become its baseball laurels, which will undoubtedly be rich.
The outcome was not dramatic, but that wasn't the point on this night. The game will be remembered for the Captain hitting the first home run (with Jeter's usual drama in the clutch) in the park's playoff history, for the redemption of two possible future Hall of Famers formally maligned by their playoff struggles, and for the continuation of the elite level of team play in all facets of the game that notched the Yankees 103 victories in the regular season.Powered by Sidelines