MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano built his comeback season on getting deeper into games with slightly bigger pitch counts than he had in the past, but he had a September slump when he got away from that. His first postseason start seemed set for a determined return to the former until the sixth inning did him in.From Opening Day through Aug. 1, Liriano topped the 100-pitch mark in 11 outings, and pitched into the seventh inning or later in 10 of them, part of the reason he posted a 10-7 record and 3.38 ERA during that stretch. After that, though, he did it in only one of his final five starts in which he surpassed 100 pitches, though he lasted seven innings on just 99 pitches on Aug. 26 at Texas. Not only did Liriano hold the Yankees scoreless through the first five innings, he needed just 79 pitches to do it, leaving him poised for a deep outing. Instead, New York hitters took 27 pitches out of him in the sixth, then forced him out of the game with Curtis Granderson's go-ahead triple on the last of those pitches. Liriano said he simply missed his spots and started rushing his pitches, but he also noted the Yankees adjusted their approach. "They were more patient the third at-bat, the sixth inning," he said. "They weren't swinging at the fastball and slider I was throwing early in the game." Liriano was already over 100 pitches by the time Granderson came up. Given Liriano's success in their meetings -- Granderson was 4-for-24 with 13 strikeouts lifetime off the lefty going into that at-bat -- manager Ron Gardenhire said he didn't think about pulling Liriano for reliever Jose Mijares. "You take your starter out in a game like that, it's not the right thing to do," Gardenhire said. "We were trying to get through it and I had all the confidence in the world he could get Granderson out. It's his ballgame." Liriano left with two outs in the sixth at 106 pitches, his highest pitch count since mid-August. "I didn't look at the pitch counts," Liriano said, "so I didn't know how many pitches I had in that inning. I don't really pay attention to that, just try to finish the inning."
Valencia's growth apparent in Game 1
MINNEAPOLIS -- Danny Valencia has already put up a track record that warrants caution when facing him with the bases loaded. But Yankees starter CC Sabathia might've been a little too cautious.Sabathia located four pitches outside the strike zone, hoping to get a rookie hitter with an early power surge and a more recent slump to chase at one or two and find an easy route back into the count. Valencia took all four and ended up with his second bases-loaded walk in his brief Major League career. This one brought in the tying run in the sixth inning. "My first two at-bats didn't look good, but I saw all the pitches he had," Valencia said. "So, I knew going into my third at-bat that he would probably try to pitch me the same way, because he's been real successful. He was going to throw a lot of offspeed. I was able to get ahead in the count, and from there on, I was just taking until he could throw a strike. It worked out, got a walk." The one pitch that was truly close enough for Valencia to pause was a 2-0 offspeed delivery at the knees around the outside corner. Valencia didn't offer, and he got the call he wanted from home-plate umpire Jerry Crawford. But Valencia said it wasn't an automatic that he would take in that situation. "I was green light on 2-0," Valencia said. "I was thinking if he throws me a fastball over the plate, I'm going to swing in that situation. He threw me another changeup down and away. Obviously, it was 3-0, and from there on, I was taking until he at least threw me a strike." It continued an impressive streak for Valencia when the bags get full. He went 4-for-7 with two grand slams and 12 RBIs in those situations during the regular season, including a first-inning blast off Jeremy Bonderman a couple of weeks ago in Detroit. The fact that Wednesday's walk came after Valencia struck out in each of his first two at-bats made it a little more impressive. "You have to slow yourself down a little bit," he said. "A lot of people come into those situations and try to do too much. I try to slow the game down. In most situations like that, they're not, for the most part, going to give me something good to hit. Bases loaded, they're not just going to throw a pitch over the middle of the plate for you to crush. Patience in those situations, I feel, works out better for a hitter." Valencia put a ball in play his next time up and ended up with an infield single to continue an eighth-inning rally off Kerry Wood. Pinch-runner Matt Tolbert replaced him.
Cool runnings: Twins plan to manufacture runs
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' teams of the past have been known for their speed and ability to manufacture runs.This season, the Twins don't quite possess that same ability, as witnessed by the team's 68 stolen bases -- the lowest total for the club since 1984. But with the way Yankees catcher Jorge Posada has struggled to shut down the opponents' running game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said his club might try to run more in the American League Division Series against New York. Gardenhire said the reports that the team has gotten from its scouts are that Posada is not throwing well behind the plate and that's one way the Twins can attack the Yankees. "We are not a big running team," Gardenhire said. "But we have a few guys that can run, and we will definitely be looking to run and be looking at balls in the dirt and things like that. We'll be making sure guys at first base are aware of balls in the dirt. It's hard for Posada to bounce around and come up throwing. Hopefully, we'll try to take advantage that way." Gardenhire added some speed to his roster by keeping all three utility infielders on his bench for the first round of the playoffs: Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto. Of the three, Gardenhire said that Casilla is probably the best candidate to put in the game to steal a base. Outfielder Jason Repko is also an option off the bench to pinch-run, but Gardenhire indicated that he'll likely use Repko as a defensive replacement for Jason Kubel late in games.
Gardenhire hasn't settled on Game 3 lineup
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Yankees have only one left-handed reliever in the bullpen for the American League Division Series vs. the Twins, and manager Ron Gardenhire said that could factor into how he structures his lineup for Game 3 against Yankees right-handed starter Phil Hughes on Saturday.Gardenhire had Delmon Young batting cleanup behind Joe Mauer in the lineup for Game 1 against left-hander CC Sabathia on Wednesday. But Gardenhire said he could change that for Game 3 and use either Jason Kubel or Jim Thome, both left-handed hitters, in that spot depending on who is swinging the best. "Right now, Delmon is fine with the lefty going, and you can move your lefties around," Gardenhire said. "This is really good [now], because they bring in a left-hander to face Joe and they have to go through a right-hander to get to the next lefty." Kubel was moved down to the seventh spot in the Twins' lineup for Game 1, although he spent the majority of the season batting somewhere between the Nos. 4-6 spots. Gardenhire went with Thome in the fifth spot for Wednesday's contest. Kubel had been struggling at the plate. After missing five days because of a bruised left wrist in mid-September, Kubel batted .196 with two home runs and seven RBIs in his final 12 games, although he went 4-for-8 in his final nine plate appearances. "I wanted Thome up there for his chance to hit the long ball, and late in the season, I've moved Kubel [down in the order] and he was swinging better," Gardenhire said. "He probably quit thinking about as much. We had backed him up a bit [in the lineup], and he swung better his last two times. So thought maybe try that again."
Target named best stadium by Ballpark Digest
MINNEAPOLIS -- Not that Twins and Yankees fans needed any confirmation as they watched Game 1 of their American League Division Series on a lovely Wednesday evening in the Twin Cities, but Ballpark Digest echoed the sentiments of many: It named Target Field its 2010 Ballpark of the Year.
It's the latest honor for a stadium that has already had its share of accolades. Target Field earned ESPN The Magazine's nod as the best stadium experience in all of North American professional sports, not just baseball.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher of Ballpark Digest is based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Still, the honor reflects an opinion that seemingly stretches far outside the Twin Cities.
"Expectations were high, but they were exceeded," Ballpark Digest publisher Kevin Reichard said in a statement. "From the Minnesota limestone on the exterior to the flagpole from Met Stadium and the brats from Kramarczuk's, this is a ballpark totally in touch with its community.
"Admittedly, we may be a little biased because the ballpark is in our backyard. The best ballparks are the ones that couldn't exist elsewhere -- they're tied to their fans with an overwhelming sense of place. There's little doubt Minnesotans have overwhelmingly embraced Target Field, with good reason: It's definitely one of the best places anywhere to watch a baseball game, no matter the season or circumstances."