Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees stumbled through September and landed in the AL wild-card spot.
As the Minnesota Twins can attest, the Yankees are hardly an underdog in October.
Pushing the home-field advantage back in Minnesota's face, Pettitte turned in a vintage postseason performance with seven smooth innings and Lance Berkman had two big hits for New York in a 5-2 victory over the Twins on Thursday evening for a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five division series.
Berkman hit a go-ahead home run in the fifth and a tiebreaking double in the seventh against Carl Pavano, sending the Twins to their 11th straight postseason loss. Eight of those have come against the Yankees, who trailed in each of those games.
The Twins haven't won a postseason game since 2004, matching the Philadelphia Phillies (1915-1976) for the second-longest streak in history behind the Boston Red Sox (1986-1995) and their 13 in a row.
Berkman, yet another big-name veteran finding a place on a Yankees postseason roster, even on the downside of his career, made it 2-1 with his drive into the left-center bullpen in the fifth. His double in the seventh - one pitch after it appeared Pavano sneaked strike three past him - drove in Jorge Posada and gave New York a 3-2 lead.
The disputed call by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt led to the ejection of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire following Berkman's double.
Derek Jeter chased his old teammate Pavano off the mound with a half-swing RBI single to make it 4-2. Curtis Granderson scored New York's first run and came up with three more hits. And the Yankees headed back home for Game 3 on Saturday night, with a commanding lead over the team they own in October.
Pettitte retired 12 in a row until Orlando Hudson's homer tied it at 2 in the sixth, but after Delmon Young's two-out triple he escaped with a weak groundout by Jim Thome. Pettitte needed only 88 pitches to finish seven innings, with five hits and two runs allowed. He walked one and struck out four.
This was the same matchup on the mound as Game 3 of last year's series, and despite a savvy, poised performance by Pavano, Pettitte was a step ahead.
The old man, as Hudson respectfully referred to him the night before, broke a bunch of bats and was able to escape a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the second by allowing Danny Valencia's only sacrifice fly.
Pettitte spoke the day before about how, while he doesn't change his approach, these October appearances simply feel different to him. As one of the Yankees' famed Core Four, he sure would know. This was his 41st career postseason start and 19th win - both major league records.
After an outstanding first half, Pettitte strained his left groin muscle and missed two months until returning for three starts at the end of the regular season. His absence compounded concerns about the rotation, but after winning a so-so start by CC Sabathia in Game 1 and getting this vintage effort from Pettitte the Yankees so far don't look as though they'll be affected by any pitching problems.
Pavano walked Posada to start the seventh and thought he had Berkman struck out on a 2-2 pitch that appeared to be a strike, but Berkman sent a long drive to center and Posada raced around the bases.
Gardenhire was steamed, so he lured Wendelstedt to the mound during an extended conversation with his players - then got tossed after barking at Wendelstedt on his way back.
Pavano allowed 10 hits and four runs in six innings.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)