Yankees 8, Twins 4

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Kevin Brown shrugged off back pain and put his broken hand behind him. Now the New York Yankees have another pitcher they can count on this postseason, something they desperately needed.

Backed by Derek Jeter’s three RBIs and a relentless offense, Brown threw six strong innings to lead the Yankees past the frustrated Minnesota Twins 8-4 on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five AL first-round series.

“As long as you can keep them from scoring, you know you’ve done your job for the team,” said Brown, who broke his non-throwing hand last month when he punched a clubhouse wall in frustration.

Hoping to save Minnesota’s season, ace Johan Santana will start on three days’ rest Saturday afternoon against Javier Vazquez. The Yankees, who rallied in the 12th inning to win Game 2 after Torii Hunter’s homer put them on the ropes, can eliminate the Twins in four games for the second straight year.

Jeter went 3-for-5 and Hideki Matsui also homered for New York—just one win away from a bitter rematch with the rival Boston Red Sox in the AL championship series.

“I don’t care about Boston right now,” Jeter said. “We’ve still got Minnesota to worry about.”

If the Twins win Saturday, Game 5 is back in the Bronx on Sunday.

“We’re packing our suitcases,” said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, who came into the clubhouse and told his players to crank up the boombox.

Gardenhire’s confidence appeared to help the Twins stay positive.

“We’ve been in worse situations,” Jacque Jones said. “Nobody’s down. We got the music on, guys are ready to go.”

Bernie Williams extended a major league record by hitting his 20th postseason homer, a two-run shot off Carlos Silva that put the Yankees up 5-1 in the sixth.

That was plenty for Brown, whose first season in New York has been tainted by his ailing back and that embarrassing tantrum during a loss to Baltimore on Sept. 3.

The Yankees were angry about his outburst, but he cleared the air by apologizing a few days later. And because of his intensity and experience, Brown’s teammates were plenty confident when he took the mound for this ultra-important game.

“I think most of the guys understood where the frustration was coming from,” Brown said, “and that it was not something that I did because I didn’t care about the team. Quite the opposite.”

Against 23 batters, Brown threw 22 balls and didn’t walk anyone. A first-inning home run by Jones was the only one of eight hits allowed that did any damage.

“We’ll need him down the road, and hopefully we can get what we got tonight,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “He was poised and calm. He did a lot of things early in at-bats to those guys, and I thought he stepped up big-time.”

It remains to be seen if Brown’s back can hold up should New York advance, but he’s not worried about that—vowing to take the ball anytime he’s asked.

“It’s not even worth talking about,” he said. “At this point and time in the year, nobody cares how you feel as long as you get somebody out.”

On offense, the Yankees showed they can do more than hit the long ball.

Posada, John Olerud, Miguel Cairo, Kenny Lofton and Jeter hit consecutive two-out singles in the second inning, putting the Yankees in front 3-1 and muting the crowd of 54,803.

“A huge sigh of relief, obviously, on my part,” Brown said.

Silva failed to get an out in the sixth, allowing 10 hits and six runs.

“Those are the type of hits you’ve got to get—two-out hits,” Jeter said. “Playing on the road, you want to take the crowd out of it.”

Jeter bounced a single to center off rookie Jesse Crain with two outs in the sixth to drive in Posada and Olerud, making it 7-1.

Minnesota scored three times in the ninth, but Mariano Rivera got three straight outs after entering with the bases loaded. It was not a save situation for Rivera, who had a rare blown save in New York’s Game 2 victory.

The Twins had their chances against Brown, but Michael Cuddyer left four runners on base in his first two at-bats and Jones grounded into a double play in the third.

Then they got desperate in the sixth. Hunter tried to stretch a leadoff double when Matsui fumbled the ball in left, but he was easily thrown out. Corey Koskie ended the inning by getting tagged out at second when he tried to stretch a single to center.

Minnesota didn’t give up, though. Hunter tried to make a running catch of Matsui’s homer in the seventh, but the ball popped out when he hit the wall.

The ball rolled over and into the seats as Hunter lay on the warning track in pain and Matsui rounded the bases—looking back to make sure the Gold Glove center fielder was all right. Hunter stayed in the game, and Gardenhire said he’d be in the lineup Saturday.

“The guys are trying,” Gardenhire said. “They’re giving it everything they have.”

During a difficult time, Jones has maintained his power stroke.

He homered in Game 1, and his solo shot to left-center gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead against Brown in the first inning. Jones flew to California twice this week after the death of his father, Hardy. The funeral was Thursday.

Notes

In 107 career postseason games, Williams also has baseball’s record for RBIs with 68. … Minnesota has won the opener in all five of its postseason series since 2002—but is 2-11 with nine straight losses in all the other games. … The Yankees got nine hits and seven runs off Silva in a five-inning no-decision at the Metrodome in August.

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