In a game that was far tighter than the final score indicated, the Yankees beat the Twins 4-1 in Game 3 of the 2009 American League Division Series, completing a three-game sweep and moving on to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2004.
The Yankees outscored the Twins 15-6 in the three-game set (the Twins actually out-hit the Yankees, although the Yankees made theirs count, launching 6 home runs to the Twins' zero) and never allowed more than three runs. The Twins also took the lead first in all three games, adding three more comeback victories to the Yankees' 2009 total. The series victory pushed the Yankees to 10-0 against Minnesota in 2009, the team's best record against any opponent by far.
The first five innings of the game flew by, with Andy Pettitte and Carl Pavano matching zeroes. Pavano pitched exactly how I figured he would -- quite well -- and given the Yankees' difficulties hitting pitchers who change speeds and throw slop, I wasn't feeling great about their ability to score on ol' Glass Carl. Fortunately, Pettitte (6 1/3 IP, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 3 H, 1 ER) was even better, posting the Yankees' third quality start in as many postseason games. For as much as the Yankees were the beneficiary of timely hitting in the ALDS, the strength of the team's pitching really underscores why they were able to dispatch the Twins as quickly as they did.
After surrendering an RBI single to Joe Mauer in the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees once again stormed back to tie the game in their next frame (for the third time in three games) on a monster home run from whipping boy-turned-toast-of-the-town Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod -- who would have been the ALDS MVP if such a thing existed (5-11, 2 HR, 6 RBI) -- did everything he possibly could in this series to erase the memory of his recent postseason failures, and looks poised to continue his torrid hitting for the remainder of the playoffs.
Two batter later, Jorge Posada hit an opposite field shot that didn't appear to have enough off the bat, but managed to just clear the fence for the Yankees' second solo home run of the inning. After stifling the Yankees for 6 1/3 innings, it was incredibly gratifying to see the Yankees finally take the lead on two home runs off Carl Pavano. Of course, the game was still far from over at this point.
Joe Girardi lifted Pettitte with one out in the 7th despite Andy having tossed only 82 pitches, bringing Joba Chamberlain in to face Delmon Young. Young somehow laced a double after fouling a ball off his groin, and my hat's off to Young, as he's probably still hurting. Thankfully Joba pitched out of the inning without further incident.
The pivotal moment of the game came in the bottom of the 8th, with the Yankees still clinging to a 2-1 lead. Phil Hughes came in and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Nick Punto of all people, who, by the way, had the series of his life. Then something amazing happened. Denard Span bounced a ball back up the middle which Jeter tracked down, and -- realizing he had no play on the speedy Span at first base -- fired home after noticing Punto rounding third and foolishly breaking for home. Punto had no chance of scoring and tried to retreat to third, but a strike from Posada to A-Rod nabbed Punto, and almost certainly altered the eventual outcome of the game. With Orlando Cabrera and Joe Mauer coming up with runners on first and third and a hypothetical no outs, it's hard to envision a scenario in which the Twins don't at least tie it up. The play immediately brought to mind The Flip, which, incidentally enough, also occurred in an ALDS Game 3.
Hughes subsequently took care of Cabrera, and with the best hitter in baseball due up, Girardi correctly went to his closer at the most pivotal moment of the game. Mariano Rivera did what Mariano Rivera does, and retired the amazing Joe Mauer on only two pitches.
It took all the way until the 9th inning for the Yankees to get multiple runners on base, but once they did they made sure to cash in two tremendous insurance runs on Posada and Cano singles. Rivera then gave up a leadoff single to Michael Cuddyer in the bottom of the 9th before restoring order to the universe and retiring the next three Twins in a row, locking down my sweep prediction and sending the Yankees to their first ALCS in five years. It's actually kind of hard to believe it's been that long.
The Yankees now get to face their archrivals (non-Red Sox division), the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in the ALCS, which doesn't start until Friday night. That the two best teams in the American League in 2009 are playing each other for the league championship seems fitting, especially in this era of the Wild Card. Both teams will be plenty rested, and it should be a spectacular and stunning series. Much will be made of the Yankees' perceived difficulty with the Angels this decade, despite the fact that past performance has no bearing on future success. Even if you do put stock in small sample sizes, the Yankees have shown they can beat the Halos this year, posting a non-losing record (5-5) against Anaheim for the first time since they went 6-3 in 2003.
Additionally, the Angels just completed a very surprising sweep of the Red Sox. If the Angels can exorcise their Red Sox demons, there's no reason the Yankees can't finally turn the tables on the Angels this year.
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