Another postseason opened for the Yankees on Wednesday night and another postseason game went into the New York victory column. But this was far from a routine victory, on any level.
The Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, 6-4. For much of the evening, this outcome did not seem at all likely. Yet the Yankees' coming from behind to win, during this season and at this level, is almost a typical performance.
"Our lineup is so deep, there's never a reason to give up," said first baseman Mark Teixeira, who provided personal evidence for this concept.
The Yankees spent the first five innings wandering in a no-offense wilderness. Twins starter Francisco Liriano has once again become capable of doing this sort of thing to the opposition. He has, after all, been named the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
In the first five innings, the Yankees got two hits off Liriano and never moved a runner past second base. Equally troubling, their own ace, CC Sabathia, was not at his best. He was not bad, but he was not in peak form.
Sabathia gave up a two-run rocket to Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer in the second inning. The home run went to straightaway center into the grove of spruce trees that adorns the area just beyond the fence. You have to like those spruces. They are slices of outdoor Minnesota. You would like to see them at the side of a lake, but in an urban ballpark, you cannot have everything.
In any case, this was just the fourth time this season that a home run had reached the trees. It is known by now that the ball does not travel well to center at Target Field. In its first season, this has played as a pitcher-friendly park, which is fine, because the North American continent is full of the other kind of parks. But Cuddyer's blast did not bode well for Sabathia or the Yanks.
An unearned run didn't help either. Three runs down, nothing going offensively, the ace not at the top of his game? A Target Field crowd of 42,032 was celebrating a new ballpark, a new opportunity and a new concept; the Twins beating the Yankees in the postseason.
The ballpark was worth celebrating and the opportunity was valid, but beating the Yankees was still not on the agenda. The Yankees' dormant offense arose with four sixth-inning runs, seemingly in the blink of an eye. The decisive blow was a two-run triple by center fielder Curtis Granderson, who remade his stroke in the second half of the season. This hit clearly demonstrated Granderson's improvement, coming as it did off a very tough left-handed pitcher.
And it demonstrated the resilient quality of another Yankees club. The attitude when the Yankees are behind remains the same.
"Continue to put pressure on," Granderson said. "Continue to stay confident and understand that we're going to get opportunities as the game goes on."
The 4-3 lead did not last. Sabathia did the one thing an ace is not supposed to do, giving back the lead, atypically walking in the tying run in the bottom of the sixth. Again with something like this happening, wasn't it the Twins' night?
Teixeira's two-run homer in the seventh said no. It came against Jesse Crain, who had been practically dominant in a setup role since mid-May. The Yankees then held onto the 6-4 lead, although the Twins had four runners in scoring position over the seventh and eighth innings.
At the end, nothing changed, Mariano Rivera recording a four-out save, the 40th save of his unparalleled postseason career. And nothing changed for the Yankees and Twins, either.
The difference in this game may have come down to the Twins wasting opportunities, while the Yankees grabbed just two innings worth of opportunities and turned them into six runs.
"To be able to get six runs in those two innings, I mean, that's not easy to do in playoff baseball," manager Joe Girardi correctly noted.
Come to think of it, very little is easy to do in playoff baseball, which is why what the Yankees do in October -- and last year, November -- is doubly impressive. They come to this postseason with a relatively unsettled pitching situation, and they are playing against a Minnesota team that has a greater depth of talent than any of the three Twins teams the Yankees previously defeated in the postseason.
For five innings Wednesday night, all of the available evidence, including a 3-0 score, pointed toward a Yankees defeat. But the Yankees didn't see it that way. Do the Yankees ever believe that they are out of a game?
"No, we don't," Girardi said.
That's it, exactly.