For so many years, Alex Rodriguez was the face of the Yankees’ postseason failure.
Now he is a symbol of their success.
Rodriguez led the way as the Yankees shed some playoff demons, dominating Minnesota’s pitchers in the Division Series sweep of the Twins.
Now Rodriguez will have to lead the Yankees into another challenge they’ve failed to meet in the recent past — an AL Championship Series against the Angels, who have twice bounced the Yankees from the playoffs in the last decade.
But Rodriguez and the Yankees can’t be as intimidated by the prospect after the three games they just played.
On a night in which Carl Pavano seemed set to frustrate his former team with a strong performance that would have been difficult to picture all those years he nursed injuries in the Bronx, Rodriguez once again stepped up. His home run in the seventh inning broke the shutout and, along with Jorge Posada’s homer later in the inning, catapulted the Yankees to a 4-1 win and a date with the Angels in the ALCS.
“He was big,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Alex had an unbelievable series. … It’s great. I talked about Alex being in a good spot before the playoffs. And he showed it.”
Rodriguez had such an unbelievable series — two clutch home runs, six RBI, all in pressure situations — he made his success seem less unbelievable with each at-bat. The man so often known through his Yankees career for coming up small in October came up big this time.
Along with Rodriguez’s rebirth, the Yankees had one more feel-good story added to a season full of them. If Rodriguez had been questioned loud and long in the big picture, Posada had been the center of attention in the immediate past.
Heading into the series, Posada became a storyline thanks to Girardi’s decision to pair backup catcher Jose Molina with A.J. Burnett. After stirring controversy by expressing his disappointment, Posada capped the series with another clutch hit and an excellent defensive game.
His homer put the Yankees ahead in the seventh. Before that, Posada paired with longtime battery mate Andy Pettitte on a gem in which Pettitte allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings and struck out seven. After the homer, Posada helped protect the lead, making a snap throw to third to nail Nick Punto after a heads-up toss home from Derek Jeter. Posada also singled in a run in the ninth inning.
“I love what he did tonight,” Girardi said of Posada.
YANKEES 4, TWINS 1: Alex Rodriguez continued to reverse the trend of postseasons past with yet another clutch hit, homering in the seventh inning to tie the game before Jorge Posada added the go-ahead homer a few moments later as the Yankees completed the sweep and won their first playoff series in five years.
Former Yankee Carl Pavano had frustrated his old team from the mound instead of the disabled list for the first six innings, shutting them out and outdueling Andy Pettitte, who had given up an RBI single to Joe Mauer in the sixth. But Rodriguez hit his second homer in as many games and drove in his sixth run of the series to tie the score, 1-1. After Hideki Matsui struck out, Posada homered to give the Yankees the lead. They added two runs in the ninth on RBI singles by Posada and Robinson Cano off of closer Joe Nathan.
The Yankees bullpen fared better, with Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera combining for 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Hughes was aided in the eighth by a sharp play from Derek Jeter and Posada, who nailed Nick Punto at third after he started the inning with a leadoff double. Jeter fielded an infield single and threw home when Punto began racing for the plate. Posada then threw a dart to third baseman Alex Rodriguez for the out.
—3B Alex Rodriguez, his teammates and manager had talked about him being in a better frame of mind than previous Octobers throughout the last few weeks, but he showed it during the Yankees’ sweep of Minnesota. Rodriguez tied two games with late homers and drove in six runs in the three games after managing just one RBI in his previous 59 postseason at-bats. “He went out and proved it, with clutch hits,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Game 2 was a monster hit. Game 1, he had big hits. Tonight was a monster hit.”
—LHP CC Sabathia will be set to go in Game 1 of the Championship Series against the Angels, and manager Joe Girardi was grateful for the opportunity to start with his ace in the next round. “It’s good because you can set up your rotation however you want,” he said. Sabathia’s reaction: “I’m excited.”
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 — Number of game-tying home runs in the seventh inning or later that Alex Rodriguez hit in Games 2 and 3 of the Division Series sweep of the Twins.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “This is the first step of what we hope to be many.” — LHP CC Sabathia on the Yankees’ celebration after their Division Series victory over Minnesota.
—C Jorge Posada got serenaded by his teammates with a chant Yankees fans back in the Bronx made more popular. “Hip, Hip Jorge!” teammates screamed as they sprayed him with champagne after Posada hit the go-ahead homer in the clinching game of the Division Series sweep of Minnesota. Posada had been the center of attention after getting benched in Game 2 for backup Jose Molina, but he came through with one of the biggest hits of the series while also catching a game in which Yankees pitchers allowed just one run. Posada also did a good job of deflecting controversy for the second round of the postseason when he said he doesn’t care if Jose Molina continues to catch A.J. Burnett. “It doesn’t make a difference to me,” Posada said. “I’m just going to be ready whenever they want me.”
—LHP Andy Pettitte threw another gem for the Yankees in the postseason and said the factors that made people think he would not return to New York for the chance to do so actually made him do just that. Pettitte threw 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing just three hits and striking out seven in the Yankees’ 4-1 Division Series-clinching win over Minnesota but was an afterthought in the offseason because of the addition of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The high-profile pitchers left little cash for Pettitte, who had to swallow his pride to take a pay cut in an incentive-laden deal. No matter, he said. “That’s why I wanted to come back here,” Pettitte said of Sabathia and Burnett signing. “I knew if we had those two horses and if you could add me with them — and hopefully I could stay healthy — I felt like we could get to the postseason.”
—SS Derek Jeter is known for his many clutch hits in October, but this time he came through with a crucial defensive play in the Yankees’ series-clinching win over the Twins. Jeter fielded an infield single in the eighth and caught Nick Punto racing for home. The Yankees captain fired to catcher Jorge Posada and Punto slipped, prompting Posada to snap a throw to third, where Alex Rodriguez tagged out the runner and ended the threat. “When I caught it … I saw Punto out of the corner of my eye, so I just waited for him to commit to going home, then tried to get it to Jorge,” Jeter said.
—RHP Joba Chamberlain pitched another 2/3 scoreless innings in relief — helped by a great defensive play by Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada — and should most likely get used to that role in the next round. The New York Post has reported the Yankees will keep him in the bullpen against the Angels and use ace CC Sabathia on short rest or RHP Chad Gaudin in Game 4.
—2B Robinson Cano struggled with runners in scoring position all season but contributed a clutch hit in the ninth inning to help the Yankees put away the Twins. Cano added an RBI single to give the Yankees another insurance run in the 4-1 win that clinched the Division Series sweep.
RHP Chien-Ming Wang (right shoulder strain and bursitis) went on the 15-day disabled list July 5, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on July 31. He had season-ending surgery July 29.
OF Xavier Nady (sore right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 15, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on July 21. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 24, but he experienced a setback June 25. He had season-ending Tommy John surgery July 8.
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP A.J. Burnett
LHP Andy Pettitte
RHP Chad Gaudin
RHP Mariano Rivera (closer)
RHP Phil Hughes
LHP Phil Coke
RHP Dave Robertson
RHP Alfredo Aceves
RHP Joba Chamberlain
LHP Damaso Marte
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez
INF/OF Eric Hinske
INF/OF Jerry Hairston Jr.
LF Johnny Damon
CF Melky Cabrera
RF Nick Swisher
DH Hideki Matsui
OF Brett Gardner