NEW YORK -- The Twins' infield was in, prepared to make a throw to the plate to deny the Yankees a run if Francisco Liriano could elicit a ground ball. As always, the Twins were prepared to make the proper play. It was up to Liriano to make the proper pitch. He threw a slider that hit the bottom of the bat swung by Yankees catcher Russell Martin. A ground ball was the result.
And once again the result testified that a baseball bounce often is more fickle than anything a football does.
A right-handed hitter, Martin pushed the ball toward first baseman Justin Morneau. All that was required was for Morneau to charge, handle the ball cleanly, make a throw to his buddy Joe Mauer and wait for the tag on Robinson Cano. There would be no second run in the inning; in its place would be a second out.
But Martin's contact had imparted more spin than energy to the baseball. The ball spun in the Yankees' favor. Morneau wisely stayed back; he handled the ball cleanly and settled for the more likely out. Cano scored, and Andruw Jones advanced from second to third. A moment later, a single by Brett Gardner drove home the Yankees' fourth run in what became a 4-3 Twins loss.
"If he charges it, it's a tough play," manager Ron Gardenhire would say. "He had to go for the sure out. But it was tough either way the way it was spinning."
So on a day when the Twins also lost their second baseman, the only other spin was in a negative direction. "One tough loss," Gardenhire would say. And no one would dispute that. And the unearned run his team scored in the seventh made the outcome more exasperating.
Gone was Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the rookie second baseman who suffered a broken bone in his left leg in the bottom of the seventh when he was bowled over by a hard slide by Nick Swisher. Gone, too, was a chance to fly to the Twin Cities for their opening home game with a .500 record. And gone -- again -- was a chance to leave New York with something of value other than their luggage.
A victory Thursday would have produced the Twins' first successful series in the Bronx since 2001, the year before Gardenhire replaced Tom Kelly. And their record in the Bronx under their otherwise successful manager, postseason included, is 7-32, not that 8-31 was going to make it all better.
Gardenhire and his players can describe losses here in minute detail. The What went wrong that time? isn't readily purged. This time, they can blame spin, of all things, as well as Liriano's affection for this slider. He had jilted his sinker, left it for another. "He falls in love with the slider too much," his manager said. And Liriano agreed, but only after his second start lasted five innings (97 pitches) and allowed the Yankees to score four runs on four hits, three walks and a hit batsman.
"A couple of situations I should have made better pitches," Liriano said.
His record is 0-2, and his manager is squirming. "One bad inning," Gardenhire said. But that's all it takes when an offense scores three time in seven innings against A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain. The Twins' eighth and ninth innings were against Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera (fourth save) and quiet.
The Twins had five hits in six innings against Burnett (2-0), four of them doubles and three of the four coming in the fourth inning when they scored twice. Morneau led off with his double, a ball that bounced to the wall in right field. Jim Thome powered his double over the head of center fielder Gardner to tie the score. After Michael Cuddyer lined out to right, Jason Kubel doubled inside first base to score Thome. The third run came against Chamberlain in the seventh and was unearned.
But it was Liriano's unremarkable performance and fickle bounces that undermined the Twins in this getaway day. They didn't get away with much, no matter how you spin it.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.