It wasn't quite as overwrought with drama as Friday's Game Two, but the conclusion to Division Series between the Yankees and Twins was certainly an exciting, nail-biter of a game.
The game began as a fast moving pitchers' duel. For Andy Pettitte, it was like old times, as he was perfect through four and carried a shutout through five and two thirds. For Carl Pavano, it was bizarro world, as the maligned pitcher was perfect through two and two thirds, didn't allow a ball out of the infield until the fifth, took a shutout through six and a third, threw first pitch strikes to seemingly every batter, struck out nine, and walked none over the course of his evening.
Once the game finally saw some offense in the bottom of the sixth, the pace of the evening ground to a halt. As they did Friday night, the Twins did their damage with two outs, starting with a Denard Span single. As Pettitte worked to keep the speedy Span close to first base, he seemingly lost focus on Orlando Cabrera at the plate, falling behind 2-0. Span finally swiped second on a 2-1 pitch that narrowly missed being called a strike, and a pitch later Cabrera had drawn a free pass, bringing Joe Mauer to the plate. The probable AL MVP wasted no time in delivering, driving the first pitch to left field to score Span and give the Twins a 1-0 lead. Pettitte got out of the jam by striking out Michael Cuddyer, but he was none too pleased with surrendering the lead after getting two quick outs.
Just as in Games One and Two, and throughout the season series against Minnesota, the Yankees answered after falling behind. With one out and no one on, Alex Rodriguez was in an 0-2 hole, battled back to work a full count, and then delivered once again, destroying a Pavano offering deep to right field to tie the score. Two batters later Jorge Posada stepped to the plate and took a 1-0 offering the opposite way, just clearing the left field wall. Despite an outstanding pitching performance, two solitary pitches put Pavano and his Twins behind 2-1.
Staked to a lead, Andy Pettitte took the mound to start the seventh and fanned Jason Kubel yet again. Despite pitching masterfully and needing just 81 pitches (58 strikes) to get through six and third, Joe Girardi decided to turn the game over to his bullpen. Pettitte finished his night with a brilliant line: 6.1 IP, 3 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, and 7 Ks.
Girardi turned to Joba Chamberlain. After allowing a double to Delmon Young, Chamberlain left the potential tying run in scoring position, getting Brendan Harris to bounce to third and striking out Jose Morales. The Yankee bats went quietly again in the eighth, and Phil Hughes took the ball in the bottom of the inning.
With Joe Mauer due fourth in the inning and the lead still just a single run, it was a safe bet that Hughes was facing just three batters no matter what. He had another somewhat rocky outing, allowing a leadoff double to number nine hitter Nick Punto. When Denard Span followed with a bouncer up the middle, the Yankees were the beneficiaries of yet another Twins baserunning blunder.
Derek Jeter fielded the high hop on the outfield turf on the second base side of the bag. After the game Jeter said he didn't think he had a chance at the speedy Span, but as he glanced back to third base, he saw that Punto had failed to pick up his third base coach. Most likely assuming that the hopper had made it through to the outfield, Punto was attempting to score the tying run. By the time he threw on the brakes and dropped into a slide to stop himself, Jeter had astutely thrown a one hopper home to Posada, who in turn fired back to third in time to get Punto. Rather than the potential tying run on third with no one out, he was on first with one out.
Hughes got Orlando Cabrera to fly to center for the second out, and as expected, Girardi called upon Mo to face Mauer. One the second pitch of the at bat, Mo got his trademarked cutter in on Mauer's hands, shattering his bat and getting an easy hopper to Mark Teixeira to end the inning.
The Yanks added a couple insurance runs in the ninth, as four different Twins relievers walked four successive Yankee batters before Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano picked up RBI singles. Mo allowed a lead off single to Michael Cuddyer in the ninth, then struck out Kubel (again), Young, and got Harris to bounce to Jeter to end the series.
The Yankees have advanced to the ALCS for the first time in five years and won their first post-season series since beating the Twins in the 2004 ALDS. The sweep allows the Yankees to enter Friday's ALCS Game One as well rested as the Angels, and to set up their pitching staff with Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte taking Games One through Three again.
Just as in the season series, this ALDS against the Twins was far closer than the ledger indicates. The Yankees caught a few breaks, but more importantly, they got the top notch starting pitching that they've so sorely missed in their recent postseason appearances. They also got big contributions from Jeter, Mo, Posada, and Pettitte, just as in the dynasty years, not to mention huge hits from Hideki Matsui and A-Rod, the other holdovers from the last Yankee squad to win a postseason series. It's going to be a slow, torturous wait until Friday, but it's far better than having to wait until April.