Yankees 5, Twins 3; Yankees 5, Twins 4
NEW YORK (AP)—The New York Yankees can achieve two milestones with one more victory: clinching their seventh straight AL East title and reaching 100 wins in three straight seasons for the first time.
Behind a pair of saves by Mariano Rivera, Jon Lieber’s 100th career win and the hitting of Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees swept a doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins 5-3 and 5-4 Wednesday night.
New York (99-59) opened a four-game lead over second-place Boston (95-63), and would clinch the division with one more win or one Red Sox loss. Both teams are both assured of no worse than the AL wild-card berth.
“We said all along if Boston wins 110, 115 games, they deserve the division,” Rodriguez said. “We took care of our business on this side, and we have one more to go.”
Rodriguez hit a tiebreaking, two-run triple in the seventh inning of the opener, then had an opposite-field homer to right in the second game, his 36th homer of the season. Matsui hit a solo homer in the opener, then added an opposite-field, three-run homer in the nightcap, his 30th.
New York can clinch at home Thursday against the Twins before heading to Toronto for a three-game series that closes the regular season.
“We definitely want to do it tomorrow,” said Rivera, who raised his career-high saves total to 53.
Minnesota (90-68), eliminated by the Yankees in the first round last year, has lost six of eight since clinching its third straight AL Central title. The Twins are vying with the eventual AL West winner—Anaheim (90-68) or Oakland (89-69)—for homefield advantage in the first round.
“We had two bad innings, we lost two ballgames,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
“We knew that if you clinch your division early enough, you can set yourself up,” the manager said.
New York’s Mike Mussina faced Minnesota’s Johan Santana in the first game, a possible preview of a playoff opener. Yankees manager Joe Torre made it all but official that Mussina will start Game 1 Tuesday against the Twins or the AL West winner. The way his staff is lining up, it appears Lieber will start the second game in the best-of-five series, Orlando Hernandez the third and Vazquez the fourth, if it’s needed.
“When you get to the postseason, you have to be at your best and hope that when you step out there, all your stuff is available to you,” Mussina said. “I don’t have any problems, and I think all my stuff is available to me. I’ll just be prepared for the first game, wherever that is.”
On the Yankees’ shaky starting rotation, Mussina is the closest thing to an ace they have, especially now that Hernandez’s status is uncertain because of right shoulder stiffness. Mussina, coming off consecutive starts against Boston’s Pedro Martinez, fell behind 3-0 in the first on Hunter’s homer and Corey Koskie’s two-run double but followed with five scoreless innings.
Torre would only hint that Mussina will start the opener, saying: “I think you can guess without my help.”
Santana, seeking to match Boston’s Curt Schilling at a major league-leading 21 wins, dominated New York for five innings and left with a 3-1 lead. But the Yankees extended their major league record for come-from-behind wins with their 60th, stopping his streak of consecutive winning starts at 12.
Santana, 13-0 in 15 appearances since the All-Star break, was limited to five innings by Gardenhire. Santana, who struck out five and gave up three hits, is looking ahead to the playoffs, not thinking about whether the no-decision hurt his Cy Young Award hopes.
“I think we have proven we can play these games,” Santana said. “We have a better pitching staff than a couple of years ago. I definitely like our chances.”
Juan Rincon relieved to face Derek Jeter, whose bouncer to the third-base side of the mound tipped off the pitcher’s glove for an infield hit that scored the tying run. Rodriguez followed with a triple high off the right-field wall.
Paul Quantrill (7-3) pitched one inning for the win. In the second game, Lieber (14-8) allowed four runs—two earned—and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings. Kyle Lohse (8-12) gave up five runs, one of them unearned, in six innings.
“I know that I’m much better than what I showed,” Lieber said. “I was very lucky.”
Torre thinks Hernandez should be able to start Friday. Hernandez was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday before it was rained out and threw on flat ground without pain Wednesday. Torre also plans to use RHP Kevin Brown in relief this week, a possibly a prelude to his postseason role. He warmed up in the second game but didn’t enter. … New York’s 238 homers are two shy of the club record, set in 1961.