Duensing, Liriano left to ponder mistakes
Starter tough on himself, but Twins praise performance
NEW YORK -- Brian Duensing's first trip to New York could have turned out a little bit better.
The 26-year-old Twins southpaw, who had never even visited the Big Apple previously, suffered the loss in a 7-2 setback to the Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. Duensing gave up five runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings, striking out three and walking one.
And when the final out was recorded by New York closer Mariano Rivera, putting Minnesota in a one-game hole for this best-of-five playoff series, nobody was a harsher critic of Duensing's work than Duensing.
"I just let the guys down tonight," Duensing said. "That's all I can say. I didn't give the team a chance to win, and their lineup did a good job of hitting the ball hard."
Duensing produced a 5-1 record and a 2.73 ERA over 52 2/3 innings this season as a starter. But even with those impressive numbers as support, he would have been a playoff reliever for manager Ron Gardenhire if not for Tuesday night's Game No. 163 AL Central tiebreaker victory over the Tigers, which forced Minnesota to find a fourth starter in this series.
To say Duensing was a last resort wouldn't be a fair statement to the important contribution he made during the Twins' fight to the top. If Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson had their choice, though, a rookie hurler wouldn't be making his first start against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the opener of a playoff series, with CC Sabathia as the opposing starter.
Sabathia actually gave up two runs in the third inning, but Duensing was unable to hold that lead through the bottom half of the frame. Melky Cabrera singled and scored on Derek Jeter's game-tying home run to left on a 1-0 slider.
"Yeah, it was a slider that didn't slide, and he kind of spun on it," said Duensing.
By Duensing's estimation, Jeter's home run was one of three mistakes he made on the night, and all three cost the Twins runs. Nick Swisher doubled home the go-ahead run in the fourth, and Alex Rodriguez snapped a 19 at-bat postseason hitless streak with runners in scoring position -- he flied out with two outs and Jeter on second in the first -- by singling home Jeter in the fifth.
Prior to Rodriguez's at-bat, Anderson visited Duensing on the mound to give him the option of walking the prolific offensive force with first base open. Duensing doesn't like to walk hitters, though, and decided to go right after Rodriguez.
Twins lefties meet Bombers
"We just said, 'Don't give him anything here,'" said Gardenhire of the conversation with Duensing. "'If we get him to chase, throw something in the dirt, whatever. Misfire here. And we'll see.' The intention there, and Andy talked about it, [is] no strikes. We threw a strike, and there you have it."
"That's my fault," said Duensing. "I had a base open, and you can miss in or miss out, and I missed right down the middle."
It proved to be the last hitter of the night for Duensing, as Gardenhire brought in Francisco Liriano after Rodriguez's hit. If this game had taken place three years ago, before Liriano had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and was still a dominant force on the mound, then it might have been Liriano starting against the Yankees and Duensing working in relief.
Instead, Liriano entered the night as the only pitcher on the Twins' playoff roster who did not take the mound in Tuesday's 12-inning victory over the Tigers. Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay had thrown four pitches apiece on Tuesday, and they were used later on Wednesday, but Gardenhire wanted Liriano against the left-handed-hitting Hideki Matsui in the fifth.
Matsui connected for a 2-1 home run on a towering blast to center, giving the Yankees a 6-2 lead and complete control. That home run marked Matsui's 14th long ball against left-handed pitchers in 2009, most in the Majors.
"He just got behind right away and gave up a home run," said Gardenhire. "After that, he threw the ball pretty decent. I don't want to leave the [Duensing] out there and let him get all beat up."
As far as the beating up was concerned, Duensing did a pretty good job on his own when assessing his work. Pitching in this sort of electric atmosphere was everything Duensing had hoped for and then some. He simply wanted a better result.
A funny thing about Duensing's critique, though. It was not echoed by his teammates, who put the blame squarely on their inability to produce against Sabathia and four Yankees relievers.
"Definitely, it's not his fault. He's being hard on himself," said Minnesota right fielder Jason Kubel. "We didn't help him out much. He kept us in the game, and we needed to score more runs for him. He was there for us, and we just didn't back him up."
"I'm not sure what his line was, but to hold the Yankees to [five] runs, that's pretty good," said center fielder Denard Span, who almost immediately disagreed with Duensing when made aware of his comments. "He gave us an opportunity to win, and a lot of pitchers can't say they did that the first time they are facing the New York Yankees."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.