2004: Santana beats the Yankees

Tuesday October 5, 2004

The Twins, fresh off of their third consecutive AL Central title, opened up the 2004 playoffs with an ALDS game at Yankee Stadium.

Though the Yankees were favored in the series, the Twins sent Johan Santana to the mound. Santana hadn’t lost a game since July 11, a period of time in which he pitched 104.1 innings and had a 1.21 ERA in a league with a 4.64 ERA. Opponents had hit just .154/.216/.228 against Santana over the same stretch. To say that the Twins were confident in a series with two potential Santana starts would be accurate.

Though Santana didn’t look as dominant to most observers in Game 1 against the Yankees, you can’t argue with the results. From LEN3’s game story:

No, Johan Santana was not as scintillating Tuesday as he was during the second half of the season. He didn’t have to be.

Jacque Jones, mentally, wasn’t all there Tuesday as he deals with the death of his father. He didn’t need to be.

But the Twins don’t win because a select few carry the team, which never was more evident than during their 2-0 victory over the Yankees that gave them a 1-0 lead in the American League Division Series. They manufactured a run in the third inning, got an emotional home run from Jones in the sixth, used tremendous defense and held on to gain the early advantage in the series.

“Not a lot of people know, until we make it to the postseason and play guys like these guys, the style we play,” said closer Joe Nathan, who earned the first postseason save of his career. “I don’t know the number of games we’ve won like this during the regular season, but there were a lot of games just like this one.”

It was the Twins’ first postseason shutout since Jack Morris’ masterpiece in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against Atlanta.

For the second consecutive year, the Twins have begun an ALDS by beating Mussina, who is 20-3 in regular-season games against the Twins in his career.

Still not impressed? The Twins shut out a team that tied for the major league lead with 242 homers during the regular season while winning 101 games.

Santana couldn’t get a feel for his pitches and didn’t throw many good changeups. Yankees hitters swung at his first pitch nine times through the first six innings, trying to avoid getting deep into counts against him. But Santana scattered nine hits over seven innings, as the Twins set a postseason record for a nine-inning game with five double plays.

“I think, you know, I was able to throw the right pitch at the right time because I know my teammates can make some plays,” Santana said.

And they did.

The Yankees had two men on and one out in the first when Santana struck out Bernie Williams on a 3-2 pitch and catcher Henry Blanco threw out Alex Rodriguez, who was trying to advance to third.

There were runners on first and third in the second inning when Jorge Posada tried to tag up and score from third on John Olerud’s flyout to center. But that’s where three-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter works, and his one-hop throw to Blanco nestled in his glove just before Posada slid into him for the inning-ending out. The Twins bench exploded with excitement.

“Torii came into the dugout yelling, `Even though I can’t hit, I can still play D!’ ” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said before throwing his head back in laughter.

The trends were then established. The Yankees had the leadoff hitter reach base in four innings. The Twins had double plays in four innings.

“The thing that may get overlooked is the way Cristian Guzman [six assists] played tonight,” second baseman Michael Cuddyer said. “The plays he made that looked simple were tough, and for him to gobble them up and start double plays were impressive.”

Blanco is proof that statistics and boxscores don’t mean everything. In addition to throwing out Rodriguez in the first and holding on to Hunter’s throw as Posada crashed into him in the second, he clinically bunted Cuddyer over to second in the third inning, and the Twins looked like a well-oiled machine when Shannon Stewart followed with an RBI single to open the scoring.

Unfortunately the success in Game 1 did not carry over for the Twins. They dropped the next three to the Yankees, including Santana’s start on three days rest in Game 4 at the Metrodome. The shut out of the Yankees five years ago today represents the last time the Twins won a postseason game.

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