Yankees defeat Twins to reach ALCS
(AP) - Alex Rodriguez finally delivered the playoffperformance he needed and his talent demanded, powering the NewYork Yankees back to the AL championship series. During this first-round sweep of the Twins, Rodriguez'sperformance was nothing like all those oh-fers of Octobers past. Rodriguez and Jorge Posada hit seventh-inning home runs to spoilCarl Pavano's opportunity to frustrate New Yorkers one more time,and the Yankees advanced to their first ALCS in five years with a4-1 victory over Minnesota on Sunday night. Rodriguez got off to a rocky start this year when he admitted inspring training to using steroids when he was with the TexasRangers. Then he had hip surgery and missed the first month of theseason as the Yankees stumbled out of the gate. But baseball's highest-paid player returned with a more positiveoutlook, and New York surged to the top of the AL East. Still, the third baseman entered this postseason in an 0-for-27slide with runners on base dating to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. "I knew that I couldn't change all the 0-for-4s, 0-for-5s andall the guys I left on base," said Rodriguez, who went 5 for 11with two homers and six RBIs in these three games. "I'm contentright now, both on and off the field." Mariano Rivera got the last four outs in the final baseball gameat the Metrodome, preserving Andy Pettitte's record-tying 15thcareer postseason win. The Yankees will host the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 of theALCS on Friday night after missing the playoffs altogether in 2008. "It's exciting," Rodriguez said. "We were very disappointedlast year when we went home, and ownership got us some goodplayers. We came out and played like a team, like a group ofbrothers." Teammate Derek Jeter offered plenty of praise. "The most impressive thing? He hit home runs when we needed himto," Jeter said. "He's been doing it all year really. He's beenseeing the ball well the whole year." This pitching duel between former teammates Pettitte and Pavanoended with another first-round playoff victory in Minnesota for theYankees, who also eliminated the Twins here in 2003 and 2004. "I was trying to match zeros with him," Pettitte said. For all their success this decade by being so good at thebasics, the Twins made glaring gaffes at the worst times. Doingthat against the team that led the majors with 103 wins doomedthem. "It seems like just yesterday that we were pouring champagnefor winning the division, and now it's over," catcher Joe Mauersaid. "It just burns that we're done. I'm still trying to figurethat one out." The Yankees aren't about to let an opponent get away withoverrunning the bases, as Carlos Gomez did in Game 2 to cost theTwins a run. Nick Punto then wasted his leadoff double in theeighth by failing to see that Denard Span's single didn't get pastshortstop Jeter, and he was thrown out trying to retreat to thirdbase. Posada, who was upset when he was benched for Jose Molina withA.J. Burnett on the mound on Friday, gave Rivera more room with anRBI single in a two-run ninth as the crowd began to file out of theDome for the final time. Pettitte, who retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced, leftJoba Chamberlain a 2-1 lead with one out in the seventh. He matchedJohn Smoltz for postseason victories, getting his first such winfor the Yankees since the 2003 World Series against Pavano'sFlorida Marlins, who won it all that year. The Yankees haven't experienced that euphoria since 2000, withthe Pettitte-Posada battery, closer Rivera and captain Jeter theonly pieces left from that squad. "Up and down, there's no room to breathe," Twins first basemanMichael Cuddyer said. "That's why they spent all that money in theoffseason, for this time of year." Rivera came in to get Mauer on a bat-shattering groundout to endthe eighth after the Twins blew their chance to score against PhilHughes because of Punto's blunder. Manager Ron Gardenhire put hishands to his head in exasperation, and Orlando Cabrera followedwith a flyout to center that could've got the run in. "They deserve all the accolades. They've got the whole deal,and they've got some of the classiest guys out on the field,"Gardenhire said. "I hate it when we play against them, becausethey kill us." The Twins left 26 runners on base over the first two games,including 17 in the 11-inning defeat in Game 2, failing to getthose big hits. Pavano couldn't have started any stronger against the team thatcouldn't wait to get rid of him after four forgettable seasons. Hestruck out four during the first trip through baseball's bestlineup - the Yankees led the majors in runs, homers and on-basepercentage during the regular season - and the only hit he gave upin the first four innings didn't make it out of the infield. Effectively spotting his changeup and sinker, Pavano completedseven innings with a season-high nine strikeouts and no walks. "He was tough," Posada said. "You've got to give a lot ofcredit to him." The last professional baseball game under this billowing roofwas supposed to be a week ago. After beating Detroit in an ALCentral tiebreaker on Tuesday night, here the Twins were, playingin front of another packed stadium. They made every game down the stretch count for more than just alast-chance-to-see-the-Metrodome memory, catching Detroit with 17wins in their last 21 games including that epic tiebreaker game forthe division title on Tuesday. Ah, but these Yankees aren't the same as the Tigers or the WhiteSox or the Royals, as the Twins were painfully reminded during thefirst two games in New York - and again on Sunday. Mauer's two-out single in the sixth justified the "MVP!"chants, gave the Twins their first lead at home over the Yankees infour games this year. Pettitte, who became the major league leader in careerpostseason innings pitched, snapped back to strike out Cuddyer on ahigh fastball. The 37-year-old left-hander pumped his fist as heheaded to the dugout. Then Pavano's performance was quickly blemished by the bigopposite-field homers by Rodriguez and Posada. Rodriguez had fallenbehind 0-and-2 before working the count full. Just like that, theYankees were back in front.