It's really a shame that Ron Gardenhire doesn't understand the
post-season. His team matches up reasonably well against the Red
Sox and he would have had a decent shot at the NL contender in the
World Series if they made it. But because he doesn't understand
that he needs to manage to his team's strength, he cost his team two
wins against the Yankees and thus a potential trip to the ALCS.
Before the series began, it was pretty well understood that the Twins
had three advantages over the Yankees and that they would have to make
the most of them to emerge from the first round. The advantages
were team speed, a deeper bullpen and Johan Santana, not necessarily in
Santana took care of the decision-making in Game 1 by battling through
seven tough but shutout innings despite not having any feel for his
change-up, arguably his most effective pitch.
In Game 2, Gardenhire
failed to use his bullpen depth
and overextended his closer
unnecessarily, costing the Twins a win.
Game 3 was pretty much out of his hands as the Yanks picked apart
Carlos Silva. Of course, it didn't help that Torii Hunter and
Corey Koskie foolishly tried to take extra bases and got thrown out
instead of helping chip away the Yankee lead. But the series
still should have been in the Twins
favor with a chance to close the Yankees out in four games.
Instead, the loss forced him to use his ace to stay in the series,
although he was scheduled to go regardless.
Game 4 was another winnable contest for the Twins but Gardenhire
inexplicably refused to get all he could out of his ace, and it ended
up costing the Twins again. The Yanks worked Santana's pitch
count pretty well through the first 3 innings, but by the fifth inning,
he was only up to 87 pitches, well below his season average
(100.8). Maybe he thought JS was laboring in the 5th, but the
play-by-play certainly didn't reveal any weaknesses in Santana's armor:
a walk on a full-count pitch to ARod, a
three-pitch strikeout of Sheffield (swinging), a strikeout of Matsui on
a 2-2 pitch (swinging) and a one-pitch ground out from Bernie Williams.
What exactly in that series of pitches made Gardy think the guy was
losing effectiveness? Wouldn't it have been a good idea to have
the Twins best pitcher (by far) pitch as many innings as he's
effective? The next three hitters were a collective one-for-five
with two strikeouts against Santana in this game and the one hit was a
single by Sierra. Lifetime, they were a collective 5-for-24 with
only one extra base hit, a double. Was there any realistic chance
that the Yankees could have come back to score 4 runs against Santana
with that portion of the order? The last time a team scored 4
runs on him, the NHL was still playing hockey. It's been 5 months
it happened last. Was he trying to save him for Game 2 of the
round? Did he not realize that this was a win-or-go-home
scenario? One more inning from Santana would have allowed him to
use as many pitchers as he needed for 2 innings to get to Joe
Nathan. Looking at today's line scores, that would have been just
Gardenhire did try to use his bullpen, and the Twins did try to run in
this game, so in that aspect he succeeded in trying to take advantage
of his team's strength. But going to the bullpen when he did
meant that he was not getting all he could from arguably his team's
most devastating advantage: Santana. One inning too early meant
that he had to use lesser pitchers than the one he had on the mound to
And maybe Jesse Crain was hurt and couldn't be used. But if not,
why not use their "closer of the future" in the 10 or 11th inning
instead of a starter who had struggled with ineffectiveness since
July? Crain only faced two batters in the entire series.
Did Gardenhire not realize that the batters Lohse would potentially
face in the 11th inning had a pretty impressive resume against him:
Jeter (1.000 OPS career), ARod (1.089 OPS career), Sheffield (1.167 OPS
career), Matsui (1.133 OPS career), Williams (1.333 OPS career) and
Posada (1.400 OPS career). Regardless if he did or not, he'll
have the whole winter to reflect on that and what might have been.