After so many October misses, Alex Rodriguez delivered the playoff performance his talent demanded.
Rodriguez and Jorge Posada hit seventh-inning home runs to spoil Carl Pavano’s opportunity to frustrate New Yorkers one more time, and the Yankees advanced to their first American League Championship Series in five years with a 4-1 victory and sweep of the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Mariano Rivera closed out Game 3 of the AL Division Series – the last baseball game at the Metrodome – to preserve Andy Pettitte’s record-tying 15th career postseason win.
Game 1 of the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels will be at Yankee Stadium on Friday night. The teams were 5-5 against each this season. The Angels swept Boston earlier in the day.
“It’s exciting,” Rodriguez said. “We were very disappointed last year when we went home, and ownership got us some good players. We came out and played like a team, like a group of brothers.”
This pitching duel between former teammates Pettitte and Pavano ended with another first-round playoff victory in Minnesota for the Yankees, who also eliminated the Twins here in 2003 and 2004.
“I was trying to match zeros with him,” Pettitte said.
For all their success this decade by being so good at the basics, the Twins made glaring gaffes at the worst times – against the team that led the majors with 103 wins, they were doomed.
Nick Punto wasted his leadoff double in the eighth by failing to see that Denard Span’s single didn’t get past shortstop Derek Jeter, and he was thrown out trying to retreat to third base.
Pavano’s renaissance was upstaged by Rodriguez, who’s starting to make up for all those past postseason failures.
Rodriguez went 5-for-11 with two homers and six RBI in the series. Posada gave Rivera more room with an RBI single in a two-run ninth as the crowd began to file out of the Dome for the final time.
Pettitte retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced and left Joba Chamberlain a 2-1 lead and one out in the seventh.
Pettitte matched John Smoltz for career postseason victories. Pettitte’s previous such win came back in the 2003 World Series against Pavano’s Florida Marlins, who won it all that year.
Rivera, a 10-time All-Star, came in to get Joe Mauer on a bat-shattering groundout to end the eighth after the Twins blew their chance to score against Phil Hughes thanks to Punto’s blunder. Manager Ron Gardenhire had his hands to his head in exasperation, and Orlando Cabrera followed with a fly out to center field that could’ve got the run in.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a few minutes after his team eliminated Boston, was asked about a possible “Freeway Series” against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. “We’re not going that far right now,” he said. “Believe me, we have a huge challenge in front of us. Before we talk about a Freeway Series we’re going to have to beat an incredible team in the Yankees. ... I’ll leave it to the fans and the writers to talk about all that stuff.” ... Tony La Russa, whose contract is expiring, said he’s not certain he wants to return for a 15th season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. General manager John Mozeliak said La Russa has a job if he wants one but hadn’t spoken with him about the future.