This was the one, the Minnesota Twins were thinking. This had to be the one. Five times this season, before Game 2, the Twins had raced out to leads at Yankee Stadium, and five times the Yankees had ultimately broken their hearts. Never before, though, had the Twins had so many chances. Never before had the heartbreak been so agonizing.
"It's really disappointing," said a glum Ron Gardenhire, the Twins manager, minutes after a Mark Teixeira line drive had just barely cleared the left-field wall, giving the Yankees a 4-3 walk-off victory in 11 innings, and an all-but-insurmountable 2-0 lead in this AL Diovision Series. "I've been walked off enough times here. Some of the things that happened out there were pretty disappointing."
Among those disappointing things? There was the certain RBI single by third baseman Matt Tolbert with two outs in the fourth that ended up producing no runs because Carlos Gomez, the physically talented player whom Gardenhire had earlier in the day described as prone to mental gaffes, somehow allowed himself to be tagged out between second and third an instant before Delmon Young could cross home plate. "That's not a good play," Gardenhire said. There was the game-tying, two-run homer crushed in the bottom of the ninth by the suddenly clutch Alex Rodriguez, who has three hits in his last four at-bats with runners in scoring position, against the suddenly hittable closer Joe Nathan.
There was the double that Joe Mauer lined down the left-field line in the top of the 11th -- a double, that is, in the estimation of pretty much everyone but the left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi, who called it foul ("You don't know how he missed it," Nathan said later). There was the bases-loaded, no-outs situation in which the Twins found themselves later in the 11th, out of which they ended up being unable to score. Then, finally, there was the 91-mile-per-hour Jose Mijares fastball that Teixeira pulled into the left-field seats.
All of those disappointments served to underscore one fact after four hours and 22 minutes of play at Yankee Stadium: that in order to beat these Yankees -- these more talented, these better-paid Yankees -- the Twins have to play perfect baseball, or close to it. And tonight, they once again couldn't do it.
The Yankees are so talented that their players hit home runs -- clutch, game-changing home runs -- when doing so isn't even on their minds. "The fun part is, I was just thinking 'base hit,'" explained A-Rod of his ninth-inning bomb to right center. "Hit the ball hard somewhere. And it went to the seats."
Teixeira described his thoughts similarly. "I just wanted to hit it hard and try to start a good inning," he said of his game-winner, the 11th walk-off homer in Yankees' postseason history, and their first since Aaron Boone's in the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox.
The Yankees are so deep that the eighth pitcher they used tonight, and the man who got them out of that bases loaded, no-out jam -- David Robertson, one of the last options in the bullpen -- led the AL in strikeouts-per-nine-innings (12.98), among pitchers who threw more than 20 innings during the regular season.
The Yankees, in other words, are built to sustain disappointing in-game developments -- such as the double play into which Johnny Damon lined in the bottom of the 10th inning, killing a potentially game-winning rally -- in a way that the Twins are not, and, because of their budgetary constraints, simply can't be.
After the game, crew chief Tim Tschida admitted that Cuzzi had blown the call in the 11th. "We went in and we looked at it, and it's a clear indication that an incorrect decision was rendered," he said. And while the call might -- might -- have changed the outcome in the Twins' favor, that's far from a certainty.
What seems certain is that these Twins cannot leave 17 runners on base against the Yankees, as they did in Game 2, and win. They can't fail to score with no outs and the bases loaded in extra innings against the Yankees, as they did, and win. They can't receive a shaky performance against the Yankees from Nathan, normally their most reliable pitcher, and win. On Sunday in Minnesota, the Twins will have another chance to put together a nearly perfect game against the Yankees, which is what we can now be sure it will take for them to take even one game in this series. If they can't, with such a slim margin for error, that chance will prove to be their last.