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Updated: May 14th, 2010 9:28pm
Missed opportunity early costs Twins in an 8-4 loss to Rodriguez, Yankees

Missed opportunity early costs Twins in an 8-4 loss to Rodriguez, Yankees

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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At the risk of oversimplifying a rather complex defeat, there's little question the Minnesota Twins could have changed the course of Friday's 8-4 loss to the New York Yankees in the top of the second inning.

The Twins loaded the bases against right-hander A.J. Burnett on a Jason Kubel single, a walk and an error by third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Then, Burnett issued a four-pitch walk to No. 9 hitter Nick Punto -- an at-bat during which Burnett had a verbal exchange with home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez about the strike zone.

Burnett started Denard Span's at-bat with consecutive balls, too, and was visibly flustered on the mound. But as the Twins have done so many times this season, they let a struggling pitcher off the hook.

Span took a called strike and then bounced into a 1-2-3 double play, dropping the Twins' improbably low bases-loaded batting average to .157 (8-for-51). Then, Orlando Hudson struck out swinging, leaving two runners in scoring position -- they left four total, going 2-for-7 -- and the Twins leading only 1-0.

Yes, the Twins led 4-3 late and had other chances to do damage. But they missed a golden opportunity early not only to take control of the game, but to throw a wrench into the Yankees' bullpen for the remainder of the three-game series.

Instead, Burnett went 6 2/3 innings, and though reliever Damaso Marte proceeded to blow the Yankees' 3-2 lead, Rodriguez's slam off Matt Guerrier in the bottom of the seventh was plenty to lift New York to victory.

The outcome of that at-bat was predictable, and not just because Rodriguez was 4-for-6 with three home runs against Guerrier before the Twins intentionally walked Mark Teixeira to set up the matchup. Clutch hitting continues to be a deciding factor in this long-lopsided series, which now has seen the Yankees win 28 of 33 since 2002.

The Yankees have gotten it. The Twins haven't. And Francisco Liriano will get the next shot at turning the tide on Saturday against fellow left-hander Andy Pettitte.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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