A-Rod's fifth helps Pavano top Twins

A-Rod's fifth helps Pavano top Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Carl Pavano insists that he's still the same pitcher he always was, aggressively going after hitters and taking the mound in search of victories. The difference on Monday was that he finally got one.

Backed by a big night from Bobby Abreu, plus Alex Rodriguez's Major League-leading fifth home run, Pavano picked up the decision as the Yankees routed the Minnesota Twins, 8-2.

The win was Pavano's first in nearly two years, with his last victory having been logged on May 22, 2005, against the Mets.

"Some days, it feels like yesterday," Pavano said. "Some days, it feels like a lifetime. But I'm glad to have that all behind me and move forward. As a team, we keep moving forward from here."

The Yankees traded last week's miserable weather conditions from New York for the safe havens of Minnesota's Metrodome, where they seemed to put all of their concerns behind them.

In the clubhouse, manager Joe Torre said that the team had been trying to make light of the fact that no starting pitcher had managed to reach the sixth inning in the first turn around the rotation -- a first in the storied franchise's history.

An overworked bullpen is hardly a laughing matter, however, and Pavano helped ease those issues by turning in the best effort by a Yankees starter this season. The right-hander limited the Twins to two runs and six hits in an economical 79-pitch, seven-inning effort, walking none and striking out two.

"It was just a matter of time," catcher Jorge Posada said. "[We] just had to get the first starts out of the way and then go to work. I think the second time around, you're going to see more of that -- people can relax a little more."

Pavano said he felt comfort when the Yankees burst out of the gates against right-hander Sidney Ponson, putting up five runs through the first two innings.

Given that cushion, Pavano said he was able to challenge hitters with pitches in situations that he normally might not have, throwing more sinkers than usual to offset an ineffective slider and allowing his infield defense to do the work.

Torre said that the wait between victorious contributions from Pavano was long for the Yankees, but likely even longer for the hurler, who lost the last 1 1/2 Major League seasons due to a variety of injuries and mishaps before he was finally named New York's Opening Day starter.

"I've dealt with injuries before," Pavano said. "Obviously, this time period has been a little longer than other times. I think just getting a good game plan and being aggressive has been my key."

Pavano blanked Minnesota over the first four frames before Jason Kubel collected an RBI single in the fifth. Torii Hunter rapped a two-out double in the seventh to bring home Joe Mauer with the Twins' second run.

Brian Bruney and Kyle Farnsworth held the game there with a scoreless inning apiece, but afterward, Pavano seemed to do his best to downplay the victory.

"I don't think I'm going to change," Pavano said. "Even if I hadn't gone through those things that I've gone through, I don't think I'm going to be a different person. My job is to go out and win. As far as I'm concerned, I did my job, and I will continue to do that. I've got to stay on an even keel, because with what I've been through, I can't take it for granted."

Jorge Posada stroked a ground-rule double that brought home two runs in the first inning, and Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter both scored twice for New York as Abreu helped make the achievement as simple as possible, turning in a 3-for-5 night and driving in three runs.

The right fielder singled home a run in the first inning, hit a two-run homer in the second and added another RBI single in the sixth.

Torre credited Abreu's patient approach as just one more asset the Yankees' lineup uses to its advantage. Later, Rodriguez said that having Abreu in the No. 3 hole was like guaranteeing the later hitters the experiences of two at-bats instead of just one.

"He's just one of those real underrated players," Rodriguez said. "I see him every day in front of me. The at-bats he puts together are incredible. You get to see 30 pitches a night before you get to hit. There's a great residual there that's incredible."

The Yankees blasted Ponson for eight runs in 5 2/3 innings, punctuated by Rodriguez's home run -- a two-run shot to right -- which chased the former Yankees righty from his Twins debut and extended his big-league RBI lead to 13.

"There's no fence he can't reach," Torre said.

Of Rodriguez's five homers, he has hit one to left field, one to left-center, one to center and two to right field, a positive sign which he said shows he is not trying to do too much.

"For me, the key is trying to stay inside the ball and spread the ball all over the field," Rodriguez said. "That's when I do my best work."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.