Yankees take stranglehold lead, Cole fans 15 in win over Rays

New York's Didi Gregorius salutes the crowd after his third inning grand slam home run which helped give the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series (AFP Photo/ELSA)
New York's Didi Gregorius salutes the crowd after his third inning grand slam home run which helped give the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series (AFP Photo/ELSA)

Los Angeles (AFP) - Didi Gregorius clubbed a grand slam home run to highlight a seven-run third inning as the New York Yankees took a 2-0 stranglehold series lead with an 8-2 win over the Minnesota Twins.

"I knew it was going out when I hit it," said Gregorius. "I have been swinging at a lot of pitches. I got one in the zone and I hit it out."

New York won their 12th consecutive playoff game against the Twins and can wrap up the best-of-five American League Division Series with a victory Monday in Minneapolis.

Their winning streak over the Twins, which is the longest over any opponent in the playoffs, dates back to 2004. They are 15-2 all-time against Minnesota in the postseason.

Gregorius' shot sailed into the upper deck in right field in front of a crowd of 49,200 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. He fell behind in the count 0-2 against pitcher Tyler Duffey before connecting on a fastball that landed just inside the foul pole.

"I was trying not to chase it," said Gregorius.

"I was just thinking back to my at-bats that I had against (Duffey) yesterday, and after I had two strikes, he threw me that fastball. So I was prepared for it this time after he threw me the curveball in the dirt."

New York led 3-0 when Gregorius came to bat in the third. It was his fourth career playoff homer and the Yankees 12th postseason grand slam and first since Robinson Cano hit one in game one of the 2011 ALDS against Detroit.

After Gregorius homered, the Yankees added their eighth run when Brett Gardner hit an RBI single off Devin Smeltzer that scored DJ LeMahieu.

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka of Japan allowed one run on three hits in five innings. He struck out seven and walked one.

Edwin Encarnacion hit an RBI single in the first inning, and the Yankees knocked out Minnesota starter Randy Dobnak with two singles and a walk in the third.

The Twins struck out 14 times and went one-for-seven with runners in scoring position. Miguel Sano struck out four times after hitting one of the Twins' three home runs in game one.

"We handle our business and do what we do in a very particular way," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, "and we've done it our way all year long."

Houston also took a commanding 2-0 AL Division Series lead on Saturday night as pitcher Gerrit Cole struck out 15 batters in the Astros' 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Houston.

Elsewhere, Cole set a club postseason record with 15 strikeouts while teammate Martin Maldonado delivered both at the plate and behind it for the Astros.

Cole became just the seventh pitcher in postseason history to record at least 15 strikeouts, the first since Roger Clemens posted 15 against the Seattle Mariners in game four of the 2000 AL Championship Series.

- Franchise record -

Mike Scott held the franchise postseason record for strikeouts with 14 set in 1986, against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

Cole surrendered just four hits and did not issue a walk until the top of the eighth.

After the Astros added a run in the bottom of the eighth, Roberto Osuna surrendered a run in the ninth and was pulled with the bases loaded with one out.

Will Harris struck out Travis d'Arnaud and got Kevin Kiemaier to ground out to get the save.

Game three of the series is Monday in St. Petersburg, Florida.