By Neil Keefe
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If you wanted the Yankees to win the division and gain home-field advantage and face Cliff Lee and the Rangers in the ALDS, you are probably thankful that your wish didn’t come true. While Texas’ lefties (Lee and C.J. Wilson) have shut down the Rays on the road, the Yankees have done what they always do against the Twins in the playoffs and are now up 2-0 in the ALDS.
A lot of people thought that this was the Twins’ year to finally overcome their ALDS struggles against the Yankees, but with the series shifting to Yankees Stadium for Game 3 and if necessary, Game 4, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the Twins’ year. Now the Yankees are set up to face the Rangers in what would be a classic ALCS, and they are set up to face Lee and Wilson in the much different setting of a seven-game series.
Usually I have Sweeny Murti to vent my frustration about the Yankees, but this time we talked with everything going the Yankees’ way as they prepare to end the Twins’ season over the weekend in the Bronx. Sweeny joined me from Minnesota to talk about what we saw in the first two games of the Yankees-Twins series, and here is a transcript of our conversation.
Keefe: Andy Pettitte was the biggest question mark for the Yankees before the start of the postseason, and the critics were quick to turn against him and wonder whether or not he would be reliable in the playoffs. It seemed unfair given Pettitte’s postseason history, and considering that the Yankees wouldn’t let him go out there if he wasn’t healthy, I didn’t think there was really any reason to worry about him the way that some people did.
Murti: I don’t think anybody ever questioned Pettitte’s track record. I think the only thing that they were questioning was whether or not he was ready. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not he was healthy because he wasn’t going to go out there and make three starts if wasn’t healthy. It was just a matter of would he be good enough to win a playoff game, and I think we found out the answer.
He’s got such a great track record that you kind of lean back on that. But even Pettitte said the day before he started that “no matter how much experience he has it’s not what gets guys out.” He said he stills needs to locate and execute his pitches to get outs.
He said after his start that he, “never felt more unprepared going into the playoffs,” and that’s because he hasn’t really pitched a lot since the All-Star Break – he hadn’t even won a game since before the All-Star Break. It would be unfair to say that Pettitte gutted his way through Game 2 or that he leaned on his experience or to use any of those clichés. He still had to pitch and that’s what he did well.
Keefe: Prior to the start of the series, everyone wanted to talk about the weaknesses of the Yankees and how their starting pitching might not be enough to carry them the way it was last postseason, while no one was questioning the Twins’ build or their shaky rotation. It seems like the media always wants to take away and tone down the abilities of the Yankees and build up the abilities of their opponent. I’m not sure if it’s their way of making the series more interesting and more appealing to the fans, but I think the Yankees didn’t get enough credit and the Twins got too much credit before the series started.
Murti: It’s not just us; it’s the fans too. If you follow the team and listen to the radio everyday or follow on Twitter or whatever you do to follow the team and the games, you will see that even when the Yankees win games, everyone wants to pick apart what’s wrong with them. I don’t know if it’s about making it more interesting because even in wins there are things people want to criticize.
We don’t get to see the Twins or any of the Yankees’ opponents everyday. You just kind of see the scores from afar, and I think that’s why that view is taken because you see a few key stats or some highlights and you think, “this is going to be tough.” It’s not easy, but you get a different view of things when you a see team every single day rather than getting a crash course before a playoff series, and then you start to think there are things to worry about.
I think we take the view that we do with the Yankees because we know the end goal, and the end goal is to win the World Series. There are things that happen over the course of the year that make you wonder if the team has enough to achieve that goal, and that’s really how we are breaking everything down and measuring the team each day.
Keefe: If the award for ALDS MVP existed, it would be hard not to give it to Curtis Granderson right now. In Game 1, he had the triple that gave the Yankees the lead, and in Game 2, he had three more hits. Now that Granderson seems to be hitting whether or not there is lefty on the mound, do you think Girardi will let him hit second against Brian Duensing in Game 3, or will Girardi go back to his binder and bump Granderson back down to the bottom of the order?
Murti: Granderson’s been up in the two-hole against righties and he has been at the bottom of the order against lefties. Duensing is not overpowering, but I think Girardi will play the percentages and if he moves him down in the order it doesn’t really hurt the lineup.
Granderson has been a completely different player lately. If the playoffs started in August, I have no doubt that he wouldn’t even be playing against left-handed pitchers. But since he has turned it around, Girardi hasn’t even been looking at the numbers. He had terrible numbers against Liriano, but Girardi isn’t looking at Granderson as the same player, so he isn’t going to use those numbers against him.
This season you saw the decline to some of the Core Four, mainly Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, and other players are going to need to step up in the playoffs. It’s important for guys like Granderson and Mark Teixeira to continue to carry their weight the rest of the way.
Keefe: Lance Berkman was given the start against the righty in Game 2 and he came through with two big hits. I was a big fan of the Berkman trade at first, but then I started to get on him when he was struggling before he turned it up following his DL stint. Do you think that Berkman’s early struggles with the Yankees were due to injury or just a slump, or is he playing like his old self now because he finally comfortable as a Yankee and he has learned how to be a part-time player?
Murti: The first time we got on him, we based it on about 20 at-bats and that’s truly not fair to anybody, especially an accomplished hitter like Berkman. He was having a bad year all together, so we took the 20 at-bats and said that this is just a continuation of a bad year, so maybe part of that was fair but to be honest
When he came off the DL he was fantastic, and he hit great in September once he came back. I think we all want to be surprised by his contributions in the postseason because its the first time were really seeing him in these spots
I count myself as a little surprised from big contributions from Berkman. You saw him struggle for most of the season and you just wondered what he had left, and even he wondered what he had left in the tank. This is a lot like Aaron Boone’s situation in 2003. Obviously Berkman’s home run wasn’t as big as Boone’s, but people forget what kind of really terrible two months Boone had with the Yankees and what a bad postseason he had up until his home run in Game 7. No one remembers what he did that season except for one swing. Get a couple of big hits in the postseason and everybody will love you.
Keefe: I remember one of the times we talked that you said you could see Berkman being like Boone down the stretch and getting some big hits in the postseason.
Murti: There you go. Once in a while I getting something right.
Keefe: Ron Gardenhire was tossed in Game 2 for arguing a pitch that would have punched out Berkman and prevented his clutch double on the next pitch. In Game 2 in Tampa Bay, Joe Maddon was tossed for arguing about a missed check swing call that led to a Michael Young three-home run on the next pitch. You rarely see a manager get kicked out of a postseason game, and I think the TBS broadcasters said the last time it happened was five years ago when Bobby Cox was ejected from a playoff game. So to see two on the same day was unusual.
I compare the scenario to the NHL playoffs when the refs let the players play and get away with things you don’t see during the regular season, and there are rarely every fights. It seems like umpires are on the same page and let managers go the extra mile in the postseason, so do you think the ejections of Gardenhire and Maddon were a litte much considering the magnitude of the games
Murti: I think the umpires know that they have to be a little more a liberal in the postseason games. I didn’t see Maddon’s ejection, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two managers that got kicked out are both down two games to none in best-of-five series. There is a lot of frustration there and every strike and every pitch can swing a game, and it did for Gardenhire and the Twins against the Yankees in Game 2.
I’m sure the line that you cross to get ejected is a little bit further out in the postseason, but obviously these guys went far enough to cross it. I think the umpires know that these guys deserve a little more leeway this time of year.
Keefe: I learned my lesson about prematurely saying a series is over in 2004 when I said the word “sweep” to my dad following Game 3 of the ALCS, and he told me “don’t ever say that.” So, I really don’t want to say that this series is over, but with the way the Yankees won on the road and their history against the Twins, I don’t see how this series could go back to Minnesota. I think I can say I’m confident this series will be wrapped up at Yankee Stadium over the weekend.
Murti: I think we would all be shocked if there was a Game 5 now. I said going into the series that the Twins had some fight and that they were capable of winning a couple of games and taking this to five games, but it’s going to take a lot more to do that at this point.
They’ve been in these games and it’s the same old story. The Twins were 0-for-10 with RISP in these first two games and I remember people making a big deal about how they were in the Top 10 in the league hitting with RISP.
One of the numbers that jumped out at me in Game 2 was that Andy Pettitte has made 41 postseason starts and in the same time he has made those, the Twins have played a total of 26 postseason games as a franchise. It really comes down to experience and not letting the moment take you over and the Yankees have always been so good at that. And while the Twins have gained postseason experience, all of their experience has come from losing postseason games.
Even the new guys on the Yankees have brought over more experience than some of the guys on the Twins have. Teixeira played in postseason games and Granderson and Berkman played in the World Series before they came to the Yankees.
It’s all about not letting the moment overwhelm you and so far the Yankees have done a better job of that than the Twins have.
Keefe: On Wednesday, I posted my predictions and I had the Yankees in three and the Rangers in four, and it looks like we are on our way to getting that ALCS. What were your predictions for the two series and what kind of ALCS do you think we will see with the Yankees and Rangers if they can both finish the job?
Murti: I thought that we were looking at Yankees-Rays, I really did. I haven’t seen any of the Rangers-Rays games, just a couple innings here and there, but I will worry about the ALCS when we get there. I’m a little surprised that the Rays have been outplayed as much as they have.
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