Yankees send Twins home again
Defending champs bounce Minnesota once more in a drama-free ALDS
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's World Series parade plans are on hold. Again.
While the other division series have provided a no-hitter, a 14-strikeout two-hitter, a stunning 11th-inning, come-from-behind victory on a home run into San Francisco Bay and a furious winning rally just five outs from elimination, the Yankees-Twins series once more had all the suspense of a public execution. The Yankees swept the series, winning each game by progressively wider margins to the point that closer Mariano Rivera had a 6-1 lead to protect when he was brought in to throw the last shovel of dirt on the Twins. The series was so lopsided, the Yankees so firmly in control, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Friday that he already is working on a World Series parade, saying he's trying to figure out where to begin it.
He might consider starting it inside the Twins' heads, because that's where the Yankees have been lodged for the past week, if not the past couple of years. (On the negative side, there isn't a lot of room in there, given how badly it is cluttered with negative images of the Yankees. On the plus side: No bedbugs.) This year was New York's second consecutive divisional-round sweep of the Twins. The Yankees have won nine consecutive postseason games over Minnesota and 12 of 14 in four series against them since 2003.
"I don't know what it was. We were still going out there and trying to win ballgames. It just sucks right now," center fielder Denard Span said of the Twins' struggles since becoming the first team to clinch its division three weeks ago. "I mean, to get swept two years in a row by the same team -- I think we're better than that. Too bad we didn't show it."
Like the Twins, the Yankees struggled in the final weeks of the season, provoking the sort of media hysteria rarely seen outside a Lindsay Lohan courtroom appearance. Unlike the Twins, they recovered when it mattered.
"All those people are singing a different song now," Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said. "We have to feel good about that. We flipped the switch when we needed to and have to keep that thing turned on for the rest of the season."
"As Joe [Girardi, the Yankees' manager] said, and the guys said, we were getting ready for this," Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "I know we caught a lot of heat for it, but all our guys are strong, we're swinging the bats well, we're playing good defense, we're pitching well -- this is what we play for. We're where we want to be, but there are two more steps to go."
Thanks to the sweep, the Yankees are well-set for the ALCS, which will begin Friday. They'll have five days to rest before Game 1, and CC Sabathia will have eight days of rest between his starts, which will especially help if the Yankees choose to pitch him on three days' rest during the series. (Eiland said they haven't discussed what to do yet.) The break also provides extra rest for New York's other starters, who were a concern before the postseason began but are less of one now. Andy Pettitte held the Twins to two runs in Game 2, just his fifth start since the All-Star break, while Phil Hughes held the Twins to four hits and no runs in seven innings in Game 3, his first postseason start.
"I'm proud of him, just like I'm proud of all our guys from CC and Andy on down, but this is a kid I've been watching since he was 19 years old in [Double-A]," Eiland said. "I've seen him dominate in the minors, I've seen him go through growing pains in the majors. He fought his way through it and he showed it tonight."
Another bonus for New York: With the Rays rallying to win Saturday, Texas, Tampa Bay or both might have to use their aces if there is a deciding fifth game of that division series.
Yeah, finishing second behind the Rays and being the AL wild card really hurt the Yankees.
When left fielder Brett Gardner caught a fly ball for the final out, the Yankees celebrated as if they had defeated the Orioles in a mid-August game. There was no pileup on the mound, no racing around the field, no shaving cream pies. Although they sprayed champagne in the clubhouse, this was a relatively low-key, businesslike reaction by a team used to this sort of thing.
As the Yankees prepare for their next series, Minnesota fans may wonder whether things would have been any different had Justin Morneau been available for this series or last year's series, or had catcher Joe Mauer (three singles and a walk in 13 plate appearances) been fully healthy. But when you get swept time and again, it's hard to use injuries as an excuse. The Twins have reached the postseason six times in the past nine years with virtually nothing to show for it -- they've made it past the division series only once (2002). They have lost 12 consecutive postseason games -- only the Red Sox (1986 to 1995) ever lost more in a row.
The only solace the Twins could take Saturday was they didn't blow a lead as they had in their eight previous postseason losses to New York. They fell behind in the second inning and never threatened until loading the bases after scoring one run in the eighth on Span's RBI single, one of two hits the Twins had with runners in scoring position this series. (The other didn't bring home a run, though.)
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said "dominating" is not the right term for the Yankees' success against his team. "Recordwise, yes, they've won nine in a row. That's not dominating us, other than wins and losses; the games are really close and could go either way."
Yeah, well, maybe. But wins and losses are the only things that really matter at this point.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.