Nathan's blown save shocks Twins

Nathan's blown save shocks Twins

NEW YORK -- A two-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series with All-Star closer Joe Nathan on the mound is exactly the kind of scenario that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and his club would have dreamed of having entering Friday night's contest with the Yankees.

But instead of seeing the usually reliable right-hander convert that situation into a save and a Twins win, Minnesota could only watch in shock as one of the best closers in the game couldn't muster his typical dominance in a 4-3 loss to New York that left the AL Central champs in an 0-2 ALDS hole.

An inning after his club had just broken a tie game with a two-run rally, Nathan took the mound having had two days of rest. But from the start, he didn't look his usual sharp self.

Nathan gave up a leadoff single to Mark Teixeira, and, after falling behind, 3-1, to Alex Rodriguez, he yielded a game-tying two-run homer.

"It's obviously a tough one," Nathan said. "I can't fall behind a hitter like Alex. I can't fall behind him 3-1 and expect to get away with a pitch there. He took a good swing on the 3-1 pitch and did what he's supposed to do with it."

Standing in front of his locker after the game, Nathan answered numerous questions about the tough outing, one that had seemed unlikely, considering Nathan's regular season.

Nathan set a single-season Twins record in 2009 with 47 saves in 52 opportunities, which included converting 12 in a row to finish the year. It was a performance that earned him the honor of being named co-recipient of the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, along with Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on Thursday.

But one day after receiving the award, Nathan suffered his first blown save in the postseason, although it's not to say that the closer hasn't endured some troubles in October.

It was the second time that Nathan had given up runs while his team was leading in an ALDS game against the Yankees. In 2004, Nathan was on the mound in the 12th inning of Game 2 with the Twins holding a 6-5 lead. It was the closer's third inning of work, and he was charged with two runs to take the loss, as New York defeated Minnesota, 7-6.

In 7 1/3 postseason innings, Nathan has now yielded seven earned runs and two home runs.

Nathan was asked whether it was particularly nerve-rattling to face Teixeira and Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium with a playoff game in the balance.

"There's always pressure," Nathan said. "No matter where. That's my job. That's what I get paid to do. I get paid to come into these tight situations in tough spots, in front of these crowds, all season long. ... It was no different tonight."

NATHAN'S POSTSEASON STRUGGLES
Joe Nathan has two losses and one save in seven playoff games
Game
Team
Opp.
IP
H
ER
BB
K
HR
Dec.
Res.
'03 NLDS Gm 2SFFLA1/343011LL 9-5
'03 NLDS Gm 3SFFLA000100NDL 4-3
'04 ALDS Gm 1MINNYY100000SW 2-0
'04 ALDS Gm 2MINNYY2 1/312430LL 7-6
'04 ALDS Gm 4MINNYY1 2/310130NDL 6-5
'06 ALDS Gm 2MINOAK2/310010NDL 5-2
'09 ALDS Gm 2MINNYY1 1/332101BSL 4-3
Totals7 1/31077820-2, 1 S

The losses that come after a club's closer is on the mound are the often the toughest ones to take, but Nathan's teammates were nothing but supportive of him afterward.

"If we can get Joe out on the mound with a two-run lead, we'll take that every time," said Brendan Harris. "He's one of the best out there."

And the team wasn't surprised that it was Nathan standing up and answering question after question about one of the toughest losses the team has suffered in quite some time.

"He's not going to back away," Michael Cuddyer said. "He's as stand-up guy as you can get. Unfortunately, A-Rod got him today. But I'll still take him every day out there on the mound in that situation. In my opinion, he's the best."

But while acknowledging that the loss following his blown save was a critical blow to the Twins' chances in this series, Nathan said he just has to move on, as he has under similar circumstances.

"I had these throughout the season, and I put it behind me," Nathan said. "You have to move on to the next day. You take what you can and learn from it. But once I walk out of the clubhouse, I'll forget about it and be ready for the next game. It will be over and done with when I leave here today, jump on the plane and put it behind me."

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