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Late homers push Yanks to ALDS sweep

Late homers push Yanks to ALDS sweep

MINNEAPOLIS -- It has taken five seasons for the Yankees to vault past their most frustrating hurdle, but the days of first-round disappointment are over. They have finally made it back to the American League Championship Series.

The conclusion of that chapter came as Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada helped Andy Pettitte write the final words of baseball at the Metrodome, clubbing late solo homers on Sunday to lead the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Twins and wrap up a three-game sweep of the AL Division Series.

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Once again, the Yankees indulged in an activity they've come to enjoy -- wildly spraying bubbly around the walls of the visitors' clubhouse of this aging multipurpose facility, celebrating their advancement to a date with the Angels that begins on Friday.

"You know, we want to win a World Series," Pettitte said. "We took a step here to move on. We are going to have a nasty series. It's going to be a war with us and the Angels, but we are looking forward to it. We're going to celebrate this one and enjoy it. I'm just really happy for our club."

The Yankees knew that the Angels had wiped out the Red Sox earlier in the afternoon, watching from the clubhouse hours before Pettitte would walk to the mound with his thousand-yard postseason stare and give his club a gutsy performance.

Perfect 10
In 10 meetings in 2009, including the playoffs, the Yanks beat the Twins 10 times.
Date Score Venue
May 15 Yanks 5, Twins 4 Yankee Stadium
May 16 Yanks 6, Twins 4 Yankee Stadium
May 17 Yanks 3, Twins 2 Yankee Stadium
May 18 Yanks 7, Twins 6 Yankee Stadium
July 7 Yanks 10, Twins 2 Metrodome
July 8 Yanks 4, Twins 3 Metrodome
July 9 Yanks 6, Twins 4 Metrodome
Oct. 7 Yanks 7, Twins 2 Yankee Stadium
Oct. 9 Yanks 4, Twins 3 Yankee Stadium
Oct. 11 Yanks 4, Twins 1 Metrodome

There was a sense that the Yankees wanted to get the ALDS over with, and with Pettitte rounding into the playoff form they know and love, New York needed only the blasts from Rodriguez and Posada -- both off embattled former teammate Carl Pavano -- to push past the AL Central champions.

"People can say whatever they want about home runs and big hits," Rodriguez said. "If you don't pitch and you don't defend, you are not going to win. The story of this has been CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, and all three of them were fantastic."

"I think we played the same way we have been playing the whole regular season," Posada said. "I think pitching is just so important when it comes to a series like this. Once you see it, you understand why pitching is so important now."

Pavano frustrated the Yankees for four years of an injury-marred signing, and for six innings, he did it in a different way. Setting a new Twins postseason record with a nine-strikeout performance, Pavano saw his cruise turn sour in the seventh as A-Rod continued his monster ALDS.

The reborn slugger crushed a game-tying line-drive home run that struck the top row of the football bleachers in right field. It was the second homer of the series from Rodriguez, who belted a game-tying shot late in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium and finished the series with a .455 batting average and six RBIs.

Big man in the Bronx
Alex Rodriguez has been on fire in the 2009 playoffs so far after struggling in his past several ALDS appearances
Year AB R H HR RBI BB SO
1995 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
1997 16 1 5 1 1 0 5
2000 13 0 4 0 2 0 2
2004 19 3 8 1 3 2 1
2005 15 2 2 0 0 6 5
2006 14 0 1 0 0 0 4
2007 15 2 4 1 1 2 6
2009 11 3 5 2 6 1 2
Totals 104 12 29 5 13 11 25

"He came up with a couple of huge home runs for us," Derek Jeter said of Rodriguez. "He's swinging the bat well. He's been swinging the bat extremely well the whole year. It seems like he continues to get better and better, and hopefully, he'll continue. He's a big reason why we're here."

One out later, Posada followed by cranking his first homer of the ALDS, driving a 1-0 Pavano offering just over the wall in left-center field -- a nice moment of renewal for Posada, who allowed two passed balls in Game 1 and was benched in Game 2 for light-hitting backup Jose Molina.

"It was extremely gratifying, because I told him in Game 2, 'You might have to win this game for us,'" manager Joe Girardi said.

It was the Twins who struck first in Pettitte's 36th career postseason start, as Denard Span notched a two-out hit in the sixth inning and stole second, setting up Joe Mauer to stroke a single through the left side of the infield.

The Metrodome stood with chants of "M-V-P!" for the AL's batting champion, but as precious as runs are in the postseason, one would not be enough to keep the Yankees down and prolong the facility's life for another day -- not in a series when New York outhomered Minnesota, 6-0.

Now baseball's all-time leader in postseason innings pitched with 224 2/3, having broken a tie with Tom Glavine (218 1/3), Pettitte held the Twins to one run on three hits over 6 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out seven in an 81-pitch effort.

Joba Chamberlain recorded two outs in the seventh inning before Phil Hughes took the eighth for New York, allowing a leadoff double to Nick Punto. But a heads-up play from Jeter and Posada bailed out the Yankees.

Jeter corralled a soft infield single by Span and fired home, with Punto rounding third base and sliding to a stop on the turf. Posada's snap throw to A-Rod at third nabbed Punto, who otherwise had been a thorn in the Yankees' side during the ALDS, going 4-for-9 with three walks.

Dandy Andy
Andy Pettitte's postseason ranks after earning the win in Game 3 of the ALDS
Category Total Rank
Wins 15 1st (tie)
Starts 36 1st
Innings 224 2/3 1st
Strikeouts 146 3rd

"It looked like he thought the ball was going to go through," Posada said. "I just hoped he kept going, because we had a pretty good shot to get him."

That play helped set up Mariano Rivera to lock down his first save of the series. Despite claiming to be under the weather, Rivera recorded a four-out effort, helped by ninth-inning RBI hits from Posada and Robinson Cano.

"It feels good," Rivera said. "We haven't done anything yet. We have to keep going, keep fighting, and for that I feel good. All the guys have been doing a good job -- the pitching staff, the offense, the defense. That's why we're here."

The Metrodome's final pitch left Rivera's right hand and was chopped on the turf by Brendan Harris to Jeter, as the Yankees bounced in a cluster at the center of the diamond, heading for a place they have missed for too long. And, of course, the journey is not yet complete.

"This is what you play for -- to get that opportunity -- and now we're playing for the opportunity to go to the World Series," Jeter said. "It's only going to get more difficult as we go on."

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

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