Rodriguez got the huge hit New York was waiting for all season, Jeter provided a vintage clutch play and the Yankees pulled off another improbable postseason comeback, beating Minnesota 7-6 Wednesday night to even their series at a game apiece.
“Alex had a little trouble settling in here, but when you do this at Yankee Stadium in a postseason game, especially coming from behind, God only knows what it’s going to do for him,” New York manager Joe Torre said. “You couldn’t get a bigger hit.”
That’s for sure. Rodriguez came through with a tying double in the 12th inning, then Jeter dashed home on Hideki Matsui’s sacrifice fly as the Yankees overcame a rare October failure by Rivera.
After falling behind in the 12th on Torii Hunter’s home run off Tanyon Sturtze, the Yankees refused to fold. No surprise, because New York set a major league record with 61 comeback wins during the regular season.
“We never doubted ourselves,” Gary Sheffield said. “We’ve done this all season. There’s no reason to think we couldn’t do it again.”
Still, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hardly seemed impressed.
“We’ve won nothing yet, gang. Nothing, yet. We’ve got work to do,” Steinbrenner said. “It was great to come back.”
Corey Koskie keyed the Twins’ eighth-inning rally with a tying double against Rivera, who blew a save in the postseason for only the third time in 33 chances.
Jeter, Rodriguez and Sheffield homered earlier in this game, and it went to extra innings tied at 5. It stayed that way until Hunter connected against Sturtze, who had worked 2 2-3 hitless innings to that point.
But Joe Nathan was running out of gas, too. The Twins’ closer had made 43 straight appearances without going more than one inning, but manager Ron Gardenhire sent him out for a third inning for the first time since May 20, 2003, in hopes of finishing it.
“He was still throwing 94, 95, 96 mph,” Gardenhire said. “It’s a little disappointing. I probably left him out there too long. I didn’t like our options.”
After a strike, Nathan walked No. 9 hitter Miguel Cairo and Jeter on eight straight pitches with one out in the 12th, bringing up Rodriguez, who hit only .248 with runners in scoring position in his first season with the Yankees.
He’s making up for all that in October. A-Rod hit a ground-rule double to left-center on Nathan’s 49th pitch, tying the score at 6 with his fourth hit of the game. It gave him three RBIs, and made him 6-for-10 in the series.
“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.”
Sheffield was intentionally walked before J.C. Romero replaced Nathan.
With the outfield drawn-in, Matsui hit a liner directly at right fielder Jacque Jones that appeared to be too shallow to score Jeter from third.
But Jeter took off for the plate, and Jones’ throw didn’t have much on it. First baseman Matthew LeCroy, who entered as a pinch-hitter in the 10th, relayed the ball to the plate, but Jeter slid in safely.
“I didn’t care, I was going no matter what,” Jeter said. “Sometimes you have to force guys to make plays.”
“For us to have a chance to go up two games, 2-0, that was a tough one,” Nathan said. “I’m really disappointed with the walks.”
Jeter led off with a long ball, and Sheffield and Rodriguez hit their first postseason homers in pinstripes to help the Yankees build a 5-3 lead after seven innings.
With two All-Stars in Tom Gordon and Rivera at the back of the bullpen, that was supposed to be the Yankees’ foolproof formula for playoff success. But they couldn’t put this one away.
“I’m human,” Rivera said. “It definitely bothers me. The team gave me a two-run lead and suddenly it disappeared.”
The Twins tied it at 5 in the eighth, rallying against Gordon and Rivera. Jones reached on a wild pitch after striking out, and Hunter singled.
That was as long as Torre could wait to go to Rivera, who had been 12-for-12 in postseason save chances at Yankee Stadium. But he gave up a bloop RBI single to Justin Morneau, cutting it to 5-4 and leaving runners at the corners.
Koskie then came through with an outstanding at-bat, fighting his way back from an 0-2 count. Choking way up on the handle just like Diamondbacks slugger Luis Gonzalez did against Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, Koskie sliced a 3-2 pitch into the left-field corner for a double, tying the score at 5.
Koskie’s ball bounced into the stands, perhaps costing the Twins the go-ahead run. Pinch-runner Luis Rivas was running on the pitch.
Rivera recovered to strike out Kubel and retire Cristian Guzman on a comebacker, stranding the potential go-ahead run at third.
“We were still in the game,” Rivera said. “If I lose my composure, we definitely would lose the game.”
Rodriguez added an RBI single in the seventh to make it 5-3, snapping New York’s 0-for-19 postseason skid with runners in scoring position since Jeter’s seventh-inning RBI single in Game 5 of the 2003 World Series.
Jon Lieber pitched 6 2-3 solid innings in his first career postseason start. He left with a 4-3 lead and jogged off the mound to a standing ovation.
After Morneau’s two-out RBI double in the first, Jeter hit Radke’s third pitch into the empty black section beyond the center-field fence for his 14th career postseason home run.
That ended another punchless string for the Yankees—they had been shut out in consecutive postseason games for the first time in franchise history, dating to Josh Beckett’s gem in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series for Florida.
“You get a chance to beat them in Yankee Stadium, you can’t let them off the hook,” Twins left fielder Shannon Stewart said.
Rodriguez singled in the third before Sheffield’s homer, bringing chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” from the sellout crowd of 56,354.
Rodriguez connected in the fifth, giving the Yankees a 4-3 lead.
Jeter became the third player to homer into the center-field black at Yankee Stadium in the postseason, joining Reggie Jackson in the 1977 World Series and Seattle’s Jay Buhner in the 2001 ALCS.
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