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Updated: October 7th, 2010 10:21pm
Mackey: Blown leads a common theme in Twins' playoff futility vs. Yankees

Mackey: Blown leads a common theme in Twins' playoff futility vs. Yankees

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Following Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if there was enough belief in his clubhouse that the Minnesota Twins can indeed beat New York.

Gardenhire was peeved at the inquiry.

"That's kind of a sad question," he said. "You're questioning a Major League Baseball team there. We'll play, alright. We have a lot of heart. We have a good baseball team and that's kind of sad that you asked that question."

It's understandable why Gardenhire went on the defense. He is a manager who has always gone to bat for his players, and that's a key reason why the Twins rarely have clubhouse issues.

But really, is it outlandish to wonder whether the Twins, who now trail two games to none in the best-of-five series, allow doubt to creep in their minds? As much as sabermetric geeks (like myself) try to maintain rationalization, objectivity and a sense of reality, baseball players are human.

And the Twins -- now 18-55 against the Yankees under Gardenhire, including postseason play -- continue to find new ways to lose to the Bronx Bombers.

Even the new guys -- Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, Matt Capps, Brian Fuentes, Danny Valencia, etc. -- are beginning to find out why people wonder if Hank Steinbrenner sticks pins in a Twins voodoo doll.

It'd be one thing if the Twins had some previous positive experiences to draw back on. But Minnesota has taken the lead over New York in each of their last eight postseason meetings.

And they've lost all eight.

2004 ALDS Game 2: Leading the series 1-0, the Twins took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning at Yankee Stadium when Justin Morneau's RBI double off Jon Lieber drove home Torii Hunter. Of course, Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first with a home run off Brad Radke, tying the game, 1-1.

In the top of the second, the Twins scored two more runs to take a 3-1 lead, but the Yankees answered in the bottom of the third with a two-run blast by Gary Sheffield.

Later on, the Twins took a 6-5 lead in the top of the 12th when Hunter homered off Tanyon Sturtze. Of course, in the bottom of the 12th, Joe Nathan -- pitching his third inning of relief -- gave up an RBI double to Alex Rodriguez and J.C. Romero gave up the game-winning sacrifice fly to Hideki Matsui.

2004 ALDS Game 3: For the second consecutive game, the Twins jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, this time courtesy of a solo home run by Jacque Jones. It was all downhill from there, however, as the Yankees teed off on Carlos Silva en route to an 8-4 victory.

2004 ALDS Game 4: After taking another 1-0 first-inning lead and seeing the Yankees tie things up in the third inning, the Twins came back to score one run in the fifth inning and three more runs in the sixth inning off New York starter Javier Vazquez. The 5-1 lead wouldn't last long, as the Yankees capped a four-run fifth inning with a three-run bomb by Ruben Sierra off reliever Juan Rincon.

The Yankees put the game away in the top of the 11th when Sheffield scored on a wild pitch by Kyle Lohse.

2009 ALDS Game 1: The Twins took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning, but Jeter answered with a two-run homer in the bottom of the third to tie the game, 2-2. The Yankees went on to score five unanswered runs to win the game, 7-2.

2009 ALDS Game 2: The Twins jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning and a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning. Joe Nathan came in to pitch the ninth, but a single by Mark Teixeira and a two-run blast by Alex Rodriguez tied the game, 3-3. Teixeira hit a walk-off blast in the bottom of the 11th to give the Yankees a one-run victory.

2009 ALDS Game 3: Minnesota took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning off Andy Pettitte, courtesy of an RBI single by Joe Mauer. Twins starter Carl Pavano then came out and gave up solo homers to Rodriguez and Posada in the top of the seventh, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead. The Bombers went on to score two runs off Nathan in the ninth -- after Nick Punto's ghastly baserunning blunder -- to pad their lead and clinch the series.

2010 ALDS Game 1: Once again, the Twins jumped out to an early lead, this time 3-0 heading into the sixth inning. That's when Francisco Liriano hit a wall, allowing four runs -- three of them with two outs. Danny Valencia's bases-loaded walk off CC Sabathia tied the game at four in the bottom of the sixth, but Teixeira hit a towering home run just inside the right field foul pole in the seventh to give the Yankees a 6-4 lead they would not relinquish.

2010 ALDS Game 2: More of the same -- Twins take a 1-0 lead in the second inning and New York ties it in the fourth, then goes on to win, 5-2. The crucial play here came on a controversial non-strike call in the top of the seventh inning with Carl Pavano facing Lance Berkman. Rather than heading back to the dugout after a strikeout, Berkman had new life and blasted a go-ahead RBI double to the gap in left-center.

After the game, Gardenhire tried to provide words of confidence -- words that could be inserted seamlessly into the postgame clips of each and any of the aforementioned eight encounters.

"It was a tough loss for us, a tough night," Gardenhire said. "And we've got a big hill to climb. It's not going to be easy, but it can be done. We've seen it done before, and this club is never going to quit, and we will give them everything we have when we go to New York."

He later added, "We got nothing to lose now. We're in the hole. We have put ourselves in the hole and the Yankees have put us in a hole and we have to try to dig ourselves out and we will do the best we possibly can."

If history is any indication, the Twins are almost certain to take the lead on Saturday when Brian Duensing faces Phil Hughes.

What they do with that lead will determine whether their season continues.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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