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A-Rod makes Twins pay with winning slam

A-Rod makes Twins pay with winning slam

NEW YORK -- Like so many of the games the Yankees and Twins have grown accustomed to playing, Friday night's series opener featured multiple lead changes in a taut affair that could have gone either way. Like nearly all of its predecessors, this one went to the Yankees.

With Friday's 8-4 win, the Bombers continued their mastery of the Twins. It was their 11th straight home win against Minnesota and their 11th straight regardless of venue. By now, the tropes of this one-sided rivalry -- missed opportunities for the Twins, comebacks from both sides -- have become repetitive. The Yankees went so far as to recycle a hero from the last time these squads met in the Bronx.

Alex Rodriguez, whose game-tying ninth-inning home run off Joe Nathan in Game 2 of last season's American League Division Series sparked a historic postseason run from the third baseman, stepped to the plate in the seventh with the Yankees trailing by a run and the bases freshly loaded by an intentional pass to Mark Teixeira. Sixty feet, six inches away stood Matt Guerrier, a pitcher Rodriguez had seen six times in his career. Four of those at-bats had resulted in hits, three of which left the yard.

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The Twins, it could be argued, were playing the percentages. In general terms, walking Teixeira set up the double play, and bringing in the sinkerballer Guerrier enhanced that possibility. On the other hand, they weren't playing the specific percentages.

After fouling Guerrier's first pitch down the third-base line -- narrowly missing an extra-base hit -- Rodriguez belted his second delivery into the stands in left-center field for the fourth home run of his season and the 19th grand slam of his career. New York didn't look back.

"That's what Alex Rodriguez does," Teixeira said. "He's done it so many times in his career. Nineteen grand slams? That's ridiculous."

When asked if the free pass to Teixeira gave him with any extra motivation, Rodriguez was quick to respond.

"No question," he said. "That's why I hit fourth."

If one had limited his observations to this season alone, Rodriguez's position in the hallowed spot in the Yankees' order may have been perplexing. Entering the game, five Yankees had more home runs, four had better averages, three had higher slugging percentages. In fact, one of the themes of the Yankees' young season has been how the success at the bottom of their lineup has mitigated the difficulties of the third and fourth hitters.

The script was flipped on Friday. With injuries eating away at the Yankees' depth -- their Nos. 6-9 hitters included no regulars once Nick Swisher left the game in the fourth -- the front half of the order rightfully stepped forward. The Yankees' first five hitters collected eight hits, scored six runs and drove in seven. Before Rodriguez's seventh-inning heroics, Teixeira and Brett Gardner had triggered the offense.

Gardner's leadoff home run put the Yankees on the board in the fourth. Teixeira continued his torrid May by scoring the go-ahead run in the fourth and, after the Twins had tied the game, driving in a go-ahead run in the fifth. His sharp double down the right-field line scored the speedy Gardner all the way from first.

The first baseman now has 17 RBIs in May -- tops in the AL for the month.

"It's fun when you see those guys hitting the ball hard," said Francisco Cervelli, who accounted for the Yankees' eighth RBI. "Everybody knows they're going to be good every day. We have a lot of injuries, so they have carried the team on their shoulders."

Early in Friday's contest, it appeared the Yankees would need to rally from a much larger deficit. Starter A.J. Burnett had already walked in a run with the bases loaded and nobody out in the second with the top of the Minnesota order coming to the plate. After falling behind Denard Span, 2-0, Burnett induced a comebacker to the mound and turned it into a 1-2-3 double play.

"We were lucky," said Cervelli, who added it was a straight fastball from Burnett that got the double play.

Burnett then struck out Orlando Hudson to limit the damage to a single run and keep Joe Mauer in the on-deck circle.

"That was a key part of the game, because you're getting almost to the middle of their order in that situation," manager Joe Girardi said. "That could have been a real big inning."

Alas, the Twins were left pondering what could have been a big inning while the Yankees celebrated what was one. And the gap between what is and what could have been remains the story of a matchup that has seemed to grow inert, with the Yankees continuing to beat the Twins, because, well, they have done it before.

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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