SERIES: AL Division Series; tied 1-1.
With three home runs and another dramatic comeback, the New York Yankees relied on two of their trademark characteristics to pull even with the Minnesota Twins in the best-of-five AL division series.
Now the defending AL champions look to take control when the scene shifts to the Metrodome for Game 3.
Alex Rodriguez capped a four-hit game with a tying double in the 12th inning, and Derek Jeter dashed home on Hideki Matsui’s sacrifice fly as the Yankees bailed out Mariano Rivera with another improbable postseason rally to beat the Twins 7-6 on Wednesday night.
The thrilling victory came a day after Minnesota ace Johan Santana beat New York 2-0, a game in which the Yankees’ power and ability to battle back were absent.
The Yankees, though, set a team record with 242 homers and led the majors with 61 come-from-behind victories during the regular season, and they got back to that formula Wednesday to beat the Twins and avoid falling into an 0-2 hole.
“We never doubted ourselves,” said Gary Sheffield, whose two-run homer in the third inning erased a 3-1 deficit. “We’ve done this all season. There’s no reason to think we couldn’t do it again.”
They were forced to do it again after Rivera blew only his third postseason save in 33 chances. Corey Koskie keyed a Minnesota two-run rally in the eighth with an RBI double that tied the game at 5-5.
Torii Hunter hit a solo homer off Tanyon Sturtze in the 12th, but the Yankees rallied against Minnesota closer Joe Nathan, who tired in his season-high third inning of work.
The Yankees are hoping Rodriguez’s breakout game is a sign of things to come in Game 3 and beyond. The third baseman struggled at times under the weight of high expectations in his first year with New York, but added a homer, two singles and three RBIs to his clutch double Wednesday.
“This team never gives up,” Rodriguez said. “When we fell behind in the 12th, we felt like there was a window of opportunity with Nathan going out for his third inning. If we can just get some guys on, we can tie it or win it.”
While the Yankees will go into Game 3 exhilarated and confident, the Twins will be trying to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss. Minnesota also took the opener from New York in last season’s ALDS, but dropped the second game at Yankee Stadium and didn’t win again in the series.
“For us to have a chance to go up two games, 2-0, that was a tough one,” Nathan said softly in the Twins clubhouse Wednesday.
Another comeback gave the Yankees a victory in Game 2, and they hope the comeback continues for Kevin Brown on Friday night. The right-hander was named to start in place of Orlando Hernandez, who has a tired shoulder, and Javier Vazquez, who was ineffective for most of the second half of the season.
After a 7-1 start, Brown struggled with back problems, an intestinal parasite and a broken left hand suffered when he punched a clubhouse wall in frustration Sept. 3. But after failing to make it out of the first inning of an 11-4 loss in Boston on Sept. 26, Brown pitched five innings of one-hit ball against Toronto on Saturday.
Brown, 39, has a 4-4 record and a 3.61 ERA in 11 postseason games, and Yankees manager Joe Torre chose him in part because of that wealth of playoff experience.
“It’s a great honor,” said Brown, who is still battling back problems. “I think a lot of people in the clubhouse know now what I’ve been through this year that may not have known beforehand, but things kind of came to light. And I appreciate the opportunity. It was a while there I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get out of bed to get back on the field.”
Brown’s experience in postseason play could prove valuable in the raucous Metrodome, which gives the Twins one of the loudest and most intimidating home-field advantages in baseball. New York won both games there in last year’s division series, but started playoff-tested veterans Roger Clemens in Game 3 and David Wells in Game 4.
Minnesota will counter with 25-year-old right-hander Carlos Silva, who will be making his playoff debut. The Twins will be looking for a strong outing from him, and enthusiasm from their fans as they look to rebound from Game 2 and recapture the series lead.
”1-1 is way better than 0-2,” Hunter said of the split at Yankee Stadium. “We’d rather have 2-0, but we’ll take it.”
Game 4 will be Saturday afternoon at the Metrodome.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Yankees - AL East champions. Twins - AL Central champions.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Yankees - SS Jeter (.292, 23 HRs, 78 RBIs, 23 SBs), 3B Rodriguez (.286, 36, 106, 28 SBs), RF Sheffield (.290, 36, 121, 117 runs), LF Matsui (.298, 31, 108), CF Bernie Williams (.262, 22, 70), C Jorge Posada (.272, 21, 81), DH Ruben Sierra (.244, 17, 65), 1B John Olerud (.259, 9, 48 with Seattle and New York), 2B Miguel Cairo (.292, 6, 42). Twins - LF Shannon Stewart (.304, 11, 47 in 378 at-bats), RF Jacque Jones (.254, 24, 80), CF Hunter (.271, 23, 81, 21 SBs), 1B Justin Morneau (.271, 19, 58 in 280 ABs), 3B Koskie (.251, 25, 71), DH Lew Ford (.299, 15, 72, 20 SBs), SS Cristian Guzman (.274, 8, 46), 2B Michael Cuddyer (.263, 12, 45 in 339 ABs), C Henry Blanco (.206, 10, 37).
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Brown (10-6, 4.09 ERA). The right-hander is 8-2 with five complete games, a shutout and a 3.05 ERA in 15 career starts against the Twins. Brown is 5-1 with three complete games and a 3.74 ERA in eight starts at the Metrodome.
TWINS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Silva (14-8, 4.21 ERA). The 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander won his last four decisions, and the Twins earned victories in his last six starts. Silva faced the Yankees once this season, pitching five innings and allowing seven runs and nine hits in a 13-10 defeat at the Metrodome on Aug. 19, though he wasn’t charged with the loss. The game was his first career appearance against New York.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Yankees, 4-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Yankees - RHP Hernandez’s tired right shoulder felt better Wednesday, and he took a step toward starting Game 4 by throwing about 50 pitches in a bullpen session. If El Duque can’t go Saturday, RHP Vazquez would start. … RHP Rivera, who had been 12-for-12 in postseason save chances at Yankee Stadium, is 18-for-20 on the road. … RF Sheffield is 3-for-10 with two HRs and a double against RHP Silva, and 4-for-10 with two HRs against RHP Nathan. Twins - C Blanco is 3-for-6 with a double against RHP Brown. … 2B Cuddyer went 2-for-5 on Wednesday and is 4-for-8 in the first two games. … CF Hunter is 4-for-10 with three runs in the series.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Yankees - 44-37 on the road. Twins - 49-32 at home.