Minnesota shocks Yankees to win AL playoff opener

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 1, 2003

NEW YORK - The Minnesota Twins are loose heading into Game 2 of their AL playoff series against the Yankees, a stark contrast to Johan Santana, their pitcher in the opener.

Playing their first postseason game in Yankee Stadium, the Twins were guarding a one-run lead in the fifth inning when Santana cramped up.

''One thing you don't do is show panic in the dugout,'' Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''So I just said, 'Well, let's have some fun. We are going to piece it together.' And that's what we did.''

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An inning later, Torii Hunter circled the bases when his line drive resulted in a pair of misplays that led to two runs, and the Twins finally beat New York, tripping up the stumbling Yankees 3-1 on Tuesday.

New York had stomped on the Twins during the past two seasons, going 13-0 and outscoring them 90-36. But Minnesota won its seventh straight postseason opener, taking control of the series heading into Thursday's game, when Brad Radke opposes New York's Andy Pettitte.

''It's been a running joke the last couple of days- we might just as well scrimmage these guys and get them warmed up for the next round, because that's where everybody's putting them,'' Minnesota's Jacque Jones said.

New York was favored in last year's division series, too, before Anaheim won in four games to end a run of four consecutive AL pennants. The Yankees have dropped four straight postseason games for the first time since the 1981 World Series against the Dodgers, not exactly what owner George Steinbrenner was expecting when he set payroll records last winter in an effort to get his team its first Series title since 2000.

After Santana's injury, Rick Reed, J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado combined to allow five hits and one run.

Meanwhile, Bernie Williams failed to cut off Hunter's liner to center and Alfonso Soriano made an error that gave Hunter what's often called a Little League home run. Williams also flopped flat on his belly rounding first base in the day's comic highlight, and New York's batters went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, getting an RBI infield single from Soriano in the ninth.

''When the game gets sloppy and the ball gets thrown around, that makes it tough,'' said Mike Mussina, who had been 20-2 against the Twins. ''That's what the postseason is, minimizing mistakes. If you make a mistake in the postseason, they tend to be big ones.''

Despite their troubles, the Yankees threatened to pull off yet another memorable ninth-inning comeback. But a spectacular leaping catch by Shannon Stewart against the left-field wall on a drive by Hideki Matsui helped Guardado limit New York to one run.

Stewart was fighting not only the sun - it was the first early afternoon postseason game at Yankee Stadium since 1981 - but aggressive fans who leaned over to try for a grab similar to Jeffrey Maier's in the 1996 playoffs against Baltimore.

''The only thing I was worried about was that with the fans reaching out, he might get poked in the eye,'' said Jones, the Twins' right fielder.

Minnesota went ahead in the third when speedy Cristian Guzman reached on a slow roller past the mound, slid into third on Stewart's single to left and scored on Luis Rivas' sacrifice fly.

Santana allowed four hits but didn't let any runners get past second. He had thrown 59 pitches when his right leg tightened.

''I knew I was in pain,'' Santana said. ''It was bad.''

His relievers weren't ready.

''He totally caught the bullpen off guard,'' Hawkins said. ''We were totally just like, 'Wow, what happened?'''

Hawkins struck out four over two innings for the win, and Guardado hung on for the save when Nick Johnson hit a game-ending grounder.

Minnesota gave itself margin for mistakes in the sixth. With Matthew LeCroy on first following a leadoff single, Hunter lined a pitch toward Williams. In the past, the outfielder usually would have scooped up the ball, but now 35 and slowed following knee surgery last spring, he let it roll by him to the wall.

''It went just too fast right by me and skipped very hard to my left,'' Williams said.

LeCroy scored and Hunter sped to third with a triple. When the relay throw from Soriano was way high, Hunter wound up coming home.

Many fans in the sellout crowd of 56,292 booed.

The Yankees knew they had opened with a stinker.

''There's nobody in this clubhouse that took them for granted,'' Pettitte said. ''They went further in the playoffs last year than we did.''