After long day, Twins left empty-handed

After long day, Twins left empty-handed

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have seen so many close games against the Yankees somehow escape their grasp.

There have been the missed chances offensively, the one bad pitch or perhaps a defensive miscue that have proven costly over the past few years when the Twins have played these Yankees.

On Wednesday, it was two solo home runs that ended up being the difference for Minnesota in back-to-back losses to New York.

After Derek Jeter's solo home run doomed the Twins in the conclusion of Tuesday's rain-suspended contest, it was Nick Swisher who put the dagger into the Twins in Wednesday's regularly scheduled contest. The Yankees' right fielder belted a two-out shot in the ninth inning off closer Jon Rauch to help the Yankees defeat the Twins, 3-2, in front of 39,353 -- the largest crowd this season at Target Field.

"We're losing games against this team, but not by a lot," Twins center fielder Denard Span said. "We just have to find a way when we play this team to take advantage of the opportunities that we do get."

The Twins' struggles against these Yankees have been well documented. It was just 10 days prior that the club ended its 12-game losing streak against New York thanks to Jason Kubel's eighth-inning grand slam off closer Mariano Rivera in the series finale at Yankee Stadium.

But while the Twins have lost 14 out of their past 15 contests against New York -- including the playoffs -- many of the games have been close -- much like the two one-run losses they suffered on Wednesday.

Of the past 14 games between these two teams, 11 have been decided by three runs or fewer. It's just that the Twins are the ones who have wound up on the wrong side of those tight games.

"I know there's been a lot made of that," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of his team's dominance over the Twins. "We played 10 games against them last year, and all 10 of them seemed to go like tonight. We've been fortunate to be on the winning end. We could have been on the losing end of a lot of them. They're a very good team, and we play a lot of tight games with them. It's just the way it's been."

While it was a pair of home runs that helped lift the Yankees to victory twice on Wednesday night, the Twins were certainly happy with the performance from their pitching staff, which held New York to four runs over two games. Instead, Minnesota was left to lament that it couldn't come out with a single win following that kind of performance, as the offense went a combined 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position over the two games.

"We lost two one-run games against them today and battled pretty good," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Offensively, we didn't do too much. We need to find ways to get better swings on the ball."

In both games, the Twins saw their starting pitcher deliver a gem. While Scott Baker's effort -- in which he threw just 50 pitches over five scoreless innings -- was halted early by a thunderstorm on Tuesday night, Francisco Liriano was simply the victim of his club's inability to score enough runs.

May has been far less kind to Liriano than April, when he went 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA to earn American League Pitcher of the Month honors. But Liriano rediscovered some of that early-season magic on Wednesday, holding the Yankees to just two runs over seven innings while striking out seven.

"Frankie was fantastic," Gardenhire said. "He threw the ball good. His pitch count got up there a little bit, but I thought his slider was really good as he went along."

The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Span doubled to the right-field corner, stole third base and scored on Joe Mauer's single to center. But New York took a 2-1 lead thanks to the bottom of its order, as No. 8 hitter Kevin Russo hit an RBI double in the fourth and No. 9 hitter Brett Gardner added a run-scoring triple to right field in the sixth.

Yet in the seventh inning, the Twins knotted the game thanks to Delmon Young's double to right-center that scored Michael Cuddyer.

But like Liriano, Yankees starter Andy Pettitte delivered a gem for his club, and perhaps the most impressive part was his ability to work out of a jam in the eighth inning, when the Twins appeared on their way to snapping a 2-2 tie.

Drew Butera began the eighth with a double, his first career extra-base hit, and Span reached on a bunt that third baseman Alex Rodriguez charged but couldn't scoop up cleanly. Orlando Hudson then lined out to Pettitte, bringing Mauer to the plate with runners on first and third and one out.

However, Mauer hit a hard grounder just to the left of second base that Jeter was there to field and start what was an inning-ending double play.

With Rauch ready to enter for a possible save opportunity, he instead was called upon to keep the contest tied. But after two quick outs, Rauch left a changeup over the plate to Swisher that the outfielder hit an estimated 381 feet to right field.

"In a situation like that, you get two quick outs and things seem to be going pretty well, and I get beat on my fourth-best pitch," Rauch said. "I just made a bad pitch. When I make a bad pitch, it usually costs us the ballgame, and that's what happened today."

It had appeared that Pettitte might complete the game when he took the mound in the bottom of the ninth. But as Pettitte slowly worked his way through his warmup pitches while Rivera got himself ready, it was clear that the Yankees were turning the ball over to their nearly automatic closer.

Less than four hours after completing his first save of the day, Rivera replaced Pettitte for the start of the ninth and converted save No. 10 of the season by retiring the Twins' Nos. 4-6 hitters in order. It was the first time Rivera had completed two saves in a day since May 3, 2007.

Although he acknowledged it didn't lead to his team's loss, Gardenhire was clearly upset with the way that the Yankees got Rivera ready by using Pettitte to help stall the action.

"No, he wasn't going to throw a pitch," Gardenhire said of Pettitte. "You don't normally get that long in between innings to do all of that. But that's a situation Major League Baseball needs to take care of. If your bullpen isn't ready and the starter goes out there, he should have to face a batter. That's just the way it should be."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.