NEW YORK — Joe Nathan won't admit it, won't give in to what sounds like an excuse, but the man is tired. You can see the fatigue in his body language and on his not-what-it-used-to-be fastball, and you could almost sense that he didn't have the stuff to sneak anything fast past Alex Rodriguez on Friday night, when Rodriguez made the swing of the series, maybe the swing of his career.
Nathan blew more than a save Friday night. He blew the Twins' best chance.
Twins fans will spend the weekend complaining about the missed call on Joe Mauer's fly ball, and about a strike zone shaped like a busted pinata, but the Twins entered the bottom of the ninth with a two-run lead and their rested, All-Star closer on the mound in a game that could have changed everything, a game that could have created hope.
What would become a 4-3, 11-inning loss should have been over in the ninth. Had Nathan done what he has done so often for the Twins, what they expect of him, Mauer never would have needed to hit that fly ball that landed fair but was called foul, and the amorphous strike zone would have become a source of amusement.
"This definitely stings,'' Nathan said. "This is definitely a tough one to take. I had a chance to even up the series, and I fell behind the wrong hitter at the wrong time.''
He seems to be falling behind more often these days, seems to have less confidence in his fastball. When he came on in the bottom of the ninth, and Yankees fans rose to their feet, Mark Teixeira came out of his shoes while lining a long single to right.
That brought up Rodriguez, and two All-Stars with their own, different, problematic histories suddenly faced each other.
Rodriguez's failures in October, combined with his admitted steroid use and his hamhanded attempts at spin control, made him a baseball pariah as recently as this summer.
Nathan has been the consummate Twin since arriving in 2004 -- an overachiever, a leader, an affordable All-Star -- and yet his failings have been visible and nagging.
He has given up seven earned runs, and two home runs, in 7 1/3 postseason innings, and the previous time he took the Yankee Stadium mound, on May 15, he gave up three earned runs to blow a save and continue the Twins' futility in The Bronx.
The Twins are 0-10 here this year and 5-28 under manager Ron Gardenhire, and Nathan has had his chances to apply a little makeup to that ugliness, and on Friday night he had a chance to send the series home tied.
Gardenhire says those are the toughest losses to swallow, the ones where the closer takes the mound and everybody in the dugout exhales. "Yeah, those are the hardest to take,'' starter Nick Blackburn said. "A lot of things were done right tonight. As many games as there are, things are going to happen. Joe had 40-something saves this year. He had an incredible season. Every once in a while, things aren't going to go his way.
"Nobody has any [bad] feelings toward him. Everybody still loves him. There's nobody else in the game I'd rather have than that guy. This isn't going to change anybody's opinion.''
Nathan seems to have worn down at the end of this season, though. Despite his 47 saves and 2.10 ERA, he posted a 4.76 ERA in September, when he allowed four of his seven home runs. He, like his team, has proven his excellence during regular season after regular season without proving himself on baseball's two biggest stages -- in Yankee Stadium, or in the playoffs.
As he did after that playoff loss to the Yankees in 2004, as he always does in the Metrodome, Nathan showed up in front of his locker Friday night to answer every question.
Someone asked whether it was particularly nerve-rattling, facing Teixeira and Rodriguez with the game in the balance in Yankee Stadium.
"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.''
No, it was no different Friday night, when Nathan and the Twins again failed to close out the Yankees, again failed to silence that persistent chorus of "New York, New York.''
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday, and 6:40 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on AM-1500. His twitter name is SouhanStrib. • email@example.com