Mo dominant in 40th postseason save
Disputed call the lone blemish on 40-year-old closer's line
MINNEAPOLIS -- The shards of lumber littered in front of home plate at Target Field told pitching coach Dave Eiland everything he needed to know. Mariano Rivera's touch was back.
Rivera locked down the 40th postseason save of his illustrious career in Wednesday's American League Division Series Game 1, securing the final four outs of the Yankees' 6-4 victory over the Twins and making strides toward erasing whatever doubts there might have been about the 40-year-old closer's mechanics.
"He knew what he was doing -- it was just a matter of correcting it, and he did," Eiland said. "That's why you saw the broken bats tonight. It's that late movement, that late cut. When Mo starts breaking bats, you know he's got his good stuff."
Rivera blew three of six save opportunities through a stretch in September, raising red flags, but Eiland spotted a flaw in Rivera's hand position on the baseball. That was limiting the amount of movement Rivera's cutter would have as it darted to home plate, and after a couple of bullpen sessions in Toronto last week, the problem appears to be fixed.
"You have a chance to be in the playoffs and an opportunity to pitch in the playoffs -- it's a blessing," Rivera said. "[My] command was better. Everything was better -- the result was better. Thank God for that. I'll keep doing what I need to do."
After inducing Denard Span to hit into a broken-bat groundout, leaving two men aboard in the eighth inning, Rivera chipped Orlando Hudson's bat on a grounder to start the ninth. Joe Mauer hit a ball back to the mound that Rivera knocked down and tossed to first for the second out, and Rivera appeared to get the final out on a Delmon Young liner that Greg Golson snared with a shoestring catch.
But the play was ruled a trap, despite the Yankees' protests to the contrary, so Rivera went back to work against Jim Thome and got the slugger to pop out to Alex Rodriguez at third base for the last out, securing his 17th career ALDS save and his 11th career postseason save of 1 1/3 innings.
"We cannot count those," Rivera said. "It's part of the game. You just have to get the next guy."
Girardi starts Gardner, Granderson vs. lefty
MINNEAPOLIS -- After sleeping on his lineup for a night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to keep Brett Gardner in left field and play Curtis Granderson in center field in Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Twins in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Granderson rewarded his manager's faith with a lead-changing two-run triple in New York's four-run sixth inning, while Gardner went 0-for-3 with a walk.
Girardi had been entertaining the idea of playing Austin Kearns in left field as the Yankees prepare to face left-hander Francisco Liriano, but Gardner's relatively small sample against Liriano (3-for-9, triple) entering the game seemed to be enough to sway Girardi's reasoning.
"We talked about it -- Gardy has had some success off Liriano," Girardi said. "We just thought we'd go with Gardy. He's played well all year for us."
Kearns has been battling a bruised left elbow as well as a sore right index finger, having finished the year with eight hits in his last 36 at-bats (.222) and struck out 18 times.
While Girardi used Gardner's track record against Liriano as a factor, he also discounted Granderson's struggles, believing that Granderson changed after hitting coach Kevin Long revamped his swing in August.
Granderson was 4-for-22 (.182) with a home run and three RBIs lifetime against Liriano, but Girardi said, "For Grandy, I don't look at his numbers in the past. He's a different hitter now, we believe.
"You look what he did the last two months, his at-bats off of left-handers," Girardi said. "He was a different guy for us. I know there was a lot of talk about him against left-handers coming into the year, but his at-bats off left-handers were good."
To A-Rod, Yanks must be 'assertive'
MINNEAPOLIS -- Alex Rodriguez has an issue with the baseball vernacular.
The driving force behind the Yankees' 27th World Series title, Rodriguez has no plans to "defend" that championship. That isn't his style.
"People talk about defending," Rodriguez said. "I don't really like that term. When you defend, that is not how we got our championship last year. We earned it by attacking and being assertive -- not by trying to defend something."
And so Rodriguez plans to attack -- not defend -- this week against the Twins, a team he tormented to the tune of a .455 average, two home runs and six RBIs in last year's American League Division Series. By postseason's end, Rodriguez had scattered his much-publicized October demons, posting a .365 average with six homers, five doubles and 18 RBIs in 15 games.
Healthy for most of this season, unlike last year, Rodriguez hit .270 with 30 homers and a team-high 125 RBIs batting exclusively out of the cleanup spot. And much of that production came during September, when Rodriguez hit .309 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs, slugging an otherworldly .667.
"He had a great month of September last year, and he had a great month this year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "So I feel really good about Alex going into this playoffs."
In other words, cue the attack.
"To me, when you hear the word 'defend,' you are being defensive and not being proactive and attacking," Rodriguez said. "I think the way we attain No. 28 is doing things the way we did last year."
Cortisone shot may have aided Teixeira
MINNEAPOLIS -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira had a cortisone shot in his right thumb last month, and it appears to have coincided with a surge in power production.
Manager Joe Girardi revealed before Wednesday's 6-4 Yankees win over the Twins in Game 1 of the American League Division Series that Teixeira had the shot administered after his team's Sept. 17-19 series in Baltimore. From that point through the end of the regular season, Teixeira slugged three homers and knocked three doubles, after owning only two extra-base hits -- and no homers.
Teixeira continued his revival in Game 1 of the ALDS, hitting a tiebreaking homer that put the Yankees up for good.
"It encouraged me that after he got the shot, he seemed to be swinging the bat a lot better," Girardi said. "His hand was feeling better. The [dangerous] part for him is when he dives after a ground ball. His instincts are always going to tell him to dive; he puts that hand down and it hits, and it bothers him when he dives. You hope that it doesn't happen a whole lot here."
Teixeira bruised his right thumb while diving for a ground ball on Aug. 27 in Chicago. The switch-hitter has also been fighting a fractured pinkie toe on his right foot, having batted just .220 (24-for-109) with three homers and 13 RBIs in September and October before Game 1.
Swisher keeps last October in the past
MINNEAPOLIS -- The frustration in Nick Swisher's voice became more evident with each passing day of the 2009 postseason, his offensive struggles at the plate eventually forcing him to sit out a World Series game.
Swisher's 6-for-47 (.128) showing in last year's postseason was a motivating force when the switch-hitter returned home for the winter, retooling his swing and losing 20 pounds. Now that he is back in the spotlight, Swisher will be trying to get it right.
"Obviously that's in the back of my mind, no doubt, but obviously this year is a lot different for me," Swisher said. "The regular season has shown that. For me, I've got to keep going out there and doing what I've done all year long. The one thing I've tried to preach all year to myself is to just stay consistent with what I'm doing, and I think I've done a pretty good job with that."
Playing his second year in New York, Swisher wrapped up the season batting .288 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs, vowing that he would never again have to look up at the scoreboard before his at-bats and see a batting average challenging the Mendoza line.
"I just think I was so bad last year in the postseason," Swisher said. "I got off to a bad start, and it was kind of like being in quicksand. The harder I was trying to get out of it, the worse I was doing.
"[Former NFL coach] Tony Dungy once said, 'The less you do, the more you get.' I think that's maybe it for me -- just relax, stay consistent to what you've done all season long and we'll see what happens at the end."