Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia got the New York Yankees off to a winning postseason start in their new ballpark. Even Alex Rodriguez broke out of his playoff rut against these tired Minnesota Twins.
Jeter tied it with a two-run homer, Sabathia was the ace the Yankees signed him to be, and New York romped over the Twins 7-2 Wednesday night in the opener of their AL playoff series.
After Jeter's third-inning homer off loser Brian Duensing pulled New York even at 2-2, Nick Swisher pulled a go-ahead double down the left-field line in the fourth that scored Robinson Cano from first as the Twins made a pair of poor throws.
Rodriguez had gone 0 for 29 in the postseason with runners on base dating to Game 4 of the 2004 AL championship series before chasing Duensing with an RBI single that made it 4-2 in the fifth.
On a night with sustained winds blowing to right-center at 20 mph, with gusts up to 43 mph, Hideki Matsui followed with a two-run homer into Monument Park on left-hander Francisco Lirano's fourth pitch. The Yankees celebrated like kids, just as the Twins did when they beat Detroit in an AL Central tiebreaker at the Metrodome on Tuesday night. New York went on to win its first playoff game since Joe Girardi replaced Joe Torre as manager after the 2007 season.
Rodriguez added another run-scoring single in the seventh against Jon Rauch following an error by first baseman Michael Cuddyer, with A-Rod's drive hitting halfway up the right-field wall.
Minnesota didn't arrive to its hotel until nearly 4 a.m. and appeared to lack the energy that propelled the Twins during a 17-4 finish, which overcame a seven-game division deficit. The teams get a day off before resuming Friday night, when A.J. Burnett pitches for the Yankees against Nick Blackburn. New York will be trying to get off to its first 2-0 postseason start since 1999 against Texas.
Casey Stengel hit the first postseason home run across the street at original Yankee Stadium, an inside-the-parker that gave the New York Giants a 5-4 win in the 1923 World Series opener.
It was Jeter, naturally, who hit the first home run in the Yankees' $1.5 billion palace, where New York was a major league-best 57-24 at home during the regular season. The captain also got New York's first hit, was on base four times with two hits and two walks, and scored three runs.
New York won all seven games against the Twins during the season, and was 23-3 at home against Minnesota during the regular season from 2002 on, but the Yankees had split four home games against Minnesota in the playoffs in 2003 and 2004.
After getting past the Twins in 2004 and taking a 3-0 lead against Boston in the ALCS, the Yankees lost 13 of their next 17 postseason games. To rebuild their rotation, the Yankees signed Sabathia and Burnett for a combined $243.5 million.
Sabathia, who had lost his last three playoff decisions for Cleveland and Milwaukee, didn't disappoint. Wearing long sleeves on the blustery night, he got past a 22-pitch first inning and found a sharp slider. Sabathia allowed one earned run and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings, striking out eight and walking none.
He left with two on after 113 pitches, tipping his hat to a ballpark record crowd of 49,464 that included actress Kate Hudson and rapper Jay-Z. Phil Hughes came in and struck out Orlando Cabrera, one of the Twins' tiebreaker stars, in a 10-pitch at-bat.
Duensing, who was pitching for the U.S. in the Olympics last year, made just nine starts during his rookie season but was on the mound following the Twins' busy pennant race run. He gave up five runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings.
Sabathia escaped trouble in the first after Denard Span's leadoff double and the first of Jorge Posada's two passed balls by striking out AL batting champion Joe Mauer and retiring Cuddyer on a flyout.
Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the third when Cabrera singled with two outs, Mauer doubled, Cuddyer hit an RBI single and Posada crossed up with Sabathia and allowed a run-scoring passed ball.
Jeter tied the score with a drive about 10 feet fair down the left-field line. With his 18th postseason home run, he tied Yankees stars Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson for third on the career list behind Manny Ramirez (28) and Bernie Williams (22), another former New York star.
Swisher doubled in the go-ahead run. Left fielder Delmon Young picked up the ball at the wall and made a one-hop throw to Cabrera, whose one-hop throw up was up the first-base line.
Rodriguez flied out ending the first, extending his playoff hitless streak with runners in scoring position to 19 at-bats, and struck out with a runner on in the third before coming through.
NOTES: Matsui has seven postseason homers. He hit 13 off left-handers during the regular season, tied for big league lead among left-handed batters. ... Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth, even though it wasn't a save situation. He struck out two.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)