Mark Teixeira crushed a tiebreaking two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning, lifting the Yankees to a 6-4 victory over the Twins in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Target Field on Wednesday.
Teixeira's game-winning blast off Jesse Crain came after the Yankees had to bail out ace CC Sabathia, but Mariano Rivera nailed down the final four outs to log his 40th postseason save, helping New York improve to 6-0 in playoff games played in Minnesota.
"Game-winning home runs -- there's nothing better," Teixeira said. "When you have a chance to put your team up, especially on the road against a very good Minnesota Twins team, it was a great feeling."
Teixeira has fought through a nagging right thumb injury that sapped his power in the final month of the regular season, but he mustered enough energy to turn on a hanging Crain slider and hook it inside the right-field foul pole, stunning an exuberant crowd of 42,302.
An electric atmosphere had greeted the Yankees for the first outdoor playoff game played in Minnesota since 1970, when the Twins still called Metropolitan Stadium their home. The paid customers had plenty of reason to cheer early, as a not-sharp Sabathia allowed four runs (three earned), though he left in line for the victory thanks to Teixeira's timely shot.
"You know how I am -- I don't want to give up the lead, especially when we battled back so hard," Sabathia said. "To score four runs in an inning and for me to give it back, that's pretty tough. I'm happy we won, but it was a grind out there."
Curtis Granderson's two-run triple off Twins starter Francisco Liriano capped a four-run New York rally in the sixth inning, drilling the digital scoreboard high above the playing field. By the time the ball fell, it was apparent that Liriano had hit the wall as well.
"We know the guys have the capability of hitting the ball out of the ballpark and putting tough at-bats and finding a way to get on," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You get a big hit from Grandy and from Tex tonight, and we end up winning a big game."
After being stifled through five innings by Liriano's slider-heavy approach, New York began to chip away as the left-hander tired.
"He really attacked us a lot differently than what we thought," Nick Swisher said. "He really went to his offspeed pitches a lot tonight. We made a little adjustment and got huge hits to get us going. The switch turns on once the postseason rolls around over here."
Teixeira started the damage with a one-out double and advanced to third on a wild pitch, scoring on Robinson Cano's single to right. Jorge Posada then drove a two-out single, bringing home Alex Rodriguez with the second run.
Granderson -- whose struggles against left-handed pitching seemed to be quieted by a mid-August swing renovation -- then gave the Yankees their first lead of the night, as Liriano -- charged with four runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings -- saw his first career postseason start end in sour fashion.
"If he hadn't got hurt over the course of his year, he would arguably be the best lefty in baseball," Granderson said. "It was just a matter of being in position to hit the baseball and getting a pitch to hit. I was able to go ahead and put the ball a little out of reach of Denard Span in center field and allow us to run around the bases a little bit."
Sabathia gave it back in the sixth, issuing a two-out walk to Jim Thome that snapped a string of 11 straight retired. Michael Cuddyer stroked a double to left field that Brett Gardner couldn't flag, and after Sabathia walked Jason Kubel to load the bases, he lost Danny Valencia to a four-pitch free pass, forcing in the tying run.
"I just made bad pitches," Sabathia said. "I'm trying to get a ground ball, flyout -- anything -- at that point. I just wasn't able to make a pitch."
Cuddyer was also a thorn in Sabathia's side in the second inning, blasting a two-run homer into the trees beyond the center-field wall.
Minnesota added a third run in the third inning, as Orlando Hudson singled and alertly hustled to third while Teixeira fielded a groundout at first base. With Delmon Young batting, Posada missed a pitch for a passed ball, putting the Yankees in a 3-0 hole at the time.
Sabathia, who started five games in last year's postseason for New York and went 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA, completed six innings in his first effort of the 2010 playoffs. He allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits, walking three and striking out five while hitting a batter.
"He was not sharp, really," Posada said. "They were very patient against him. We needed to throw the sliders and the fastballs, and they weren't swinging at it. It seemed like they had a good plan against him -- they really did. He didn't break -- he battled, and that's what you want from your ace."
New York's bullpen got the job done in relief, though the process wasn't without its moments. Dave Robertson whiffed Thome on a filthy breaking ball to end the seventh, leaving two men on in what A-Rod called "a beautiful sequence," and Rivera bailed Kerry Wood out of a two-on, two-out situation in the eighth by shattering Span's bat.
One out away from his club's eighth come-from-behind postseason win when trailing by three runs, Rivera appeared to get the final out on a sinking Young liner to right field, which defensive replacement Greg Golson raced in to snare.
But the play was ruled a single, despite protests, so it was up to Rivera to shatter one more bat. Thome popped out harmlessly as the Yankees, once again, shipped the Twins off with the same old result.
"They have a good team," captain Derek Jeter said. "They played as good as any team in baseball since the All-Star break, so we know it's going to be a challenge. We were fortunate to get Game 1, but we have to come right back tomorrow and play well."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.