Please... not again!!!

In last night's Twins/Yankees game, the Twins had an excellent chance to go up 2-0 on the Yankees going back to Minnesota, giving them a really good shot at closing them out in a sweep.  But Ron Gardenhire pulled a Grady and now the Twins are back to square one.  The Yankees victory had far less to do with what they did as it did with what the Twins, specifically Ron Gardenhire, failed to do.

I don't mind that Gardy brought in Joe Nathan in a tie game.  I don't mind that he left him in for 2 innings.  He had done both on several occasions this season.  But not once this season did Nathan pitch more than two innings and it was clear that he was tiring at the end of his second inning of work.  By not taking him out to start the 12th, he allowed the tying run to get on base.  But that wasn't the blunder.  That occurred when Gardenhire left him out there to face Jeter and ARod.  Not only was he leaving his closer out there to dry (Nathan was clearly losing location of his pitches), but he also gave the Yankees added confidence that they could score off his closer in future games.  Sure, the Twins scored against Rivera, but they didn't win the game.  They scored off him but they didn't beat him.  It may be a small psychological edge, perhaps even insignificant, but is it really ever a good idea to just give the Yankees any edge?

But the worst result is that he sent a message to the rest of his own bullpen: I don't trust you guys.  When the game is on the line, I'm going to look elsewhere, even if it means that I have to wear out our best reliever.  Entering this series, the Twins had three distinct advantages over the Yankees: team speed, Johan Santana and a deeper bullpen.  If the game comes down to a battle of the bullpens, the Twins should win because they have more quality bullets than the Yankees.  But if Gardenhire doesn't recognize that and doesn't take advantage of it, he is essentially fighting the Yankees with one arm tied behind his back. 

What's wrong with bringing Jesse Crain in?  Sure, he's a rookie, but it wouldn't have been the first time a rookie had been thrust onto the big stage of the playoffs.  And it also wouldn't have been the first time a rookie had come up big.  Andruw Jones made a huge splash in 1996, Jaret Wright was awesome in 1997, Francisco Rodriguez was the most dominating pitcher in the playoffs in 2002... it happens, and it happens more often than people think.  Crain spent much of the year in AAA, where he went 3-2 with 19 saves and an ERA of 2.49.  He also had 64 Ks against 17 walks in 50.2 innings.  His K/BB numbers weren't nearly as good in the majors, but he still managed to post an ERA of 2.00 over 22 games while allowing just over a baserunner per inning (1.07).  Taking it a step further, only one Yankee had ever gotten a hit off Crain: John Flaherty and that included plate appearances by ARod, Matsui, Sheffield and Bernie Williams.  If Gardenhire didn't want to go with a rookie, he also had JC Romero in the pen.  He's a lefty, but he was actually more effective against right-handers than he was against lefties: .199/.316/.273 versus .261/.341/.351.  Surely someone in the Twins dugout must've known this.  If not, the Twins failure in the 12th inning rests on the entire coaching staff.   Leaving Joe Nathan in shouldn't have been an option after he walked Cairo and had thrown more than 40 pitches. 

That Jacque Jones didn't anticipate the possibility of Derek Jeter trying to score on Matsui's "sac fly" is bad, but the game had been given to the Yankees well before that.  And the Yankees don't let gifts like that get away very often.  If the Twins are going to win the series, their manager has to stop managing like a player, where he can "will" good things to happen with his play, and start managing like a manager, where he plays the percentages and puts his players in positions where they are most likely to succeed, and not to test if they will fail. 

I agree with the general assessment that managing in the playoffs is different than it is in the regular season.  There are times when a manager has to go with his best pitcher for longer than he normally does.  But shouldn't that occur only when there are no other viable options, like when Joe Torre went with Rivera for 4 innings in last year's Game 7 of the ALCS?   He simply had no other usable options.  Last night, much like Bobby Valentine leaving Al Leiter in for 141 pitches against the Yanks in 2000 despite have an excellent bullpen, or like Grady Little did last year with Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the ALCS, Ron Gardenhire ignored his better options and it cost his team a chance to put the Yankees in a deep hole.  If the Twins are to win, he can't afford to do that any more.