Yankees score knockout punch against Twins, move to ALCS

Wells pitches clincher

N.Y. gets 6 runs in fourth

Division Series

October 06, 2003|By Mark Herrmann | Mark Herrmann,NEWSDAY

MINNEAPOLIS -- In this postseason, some teams have been upset, some teams have argued controversial calls, and almost all of the teams have been up to their eyes in tension. And the Yankees again proved they aren't just another team.

They handled themselves the way they often do in these situations: They pitched extremely well, they hit very well, and then they sprayed champagne.

Their story wasn't so much about the fact that they beat the Minnesota Twins, 8-1, yesterday to clinch the American League Division Series in four games. It was that the Yankees found their stride. They avoided drama, played a dominant game to complete a dominant series, and earned a spot in the AL Championship Series.

They will play either the Boston Red Sox or Oakland Athletics, who will finish their five-part soap opera tonight.

The Yankees avoided the fate of the favored San Francisco Giants, who were upset by the Florida Marlins, or the Atlanta Braves, who were upset by the Chicago Cubs. The Yankees methodically got better as their series grew older. They did it in a way that suggested they will be hard to beat.

"We're pitching well, we're swinging the bats well, we're playing good defense," New York shortstop Derek Jeter said. "If we do that, I like our chances."

They seemed to like their achievement, too. Their clubhouse celebration was like their series: It gained momentum. Players hugged each other quietly on the Metrodome field, as Twins fans politely applauded their team. After a while in the clubhouse, though, as the champagne showers gave way to shaving cream spatterings, the Yankees whooped it up.

Part of that was due to the fact that some players, notably Jason Giambi, had never won a postseason series. Part of it was due to something else.

"Last year was tough," said catcher Jorge Posada, who had been critical of some teammates after the Yankees were knocked out of the Division Series by the Anaheim Angels. "This year just tastes a lot better."

This year, the Yankees pitched better. David Wells threw the fourth consecutive good game, completing a stifling week for the Twins. Said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire: "You know you're going to run up against a buzz saw when you run up against their pitching staff."

Wells worked into the eighth and gave up eight hits and no walks.

Yankees hitting caught up with their pitching yesterday. They had 13 hits, including four doubles in a six-run fourth that put away Twins starter Johan Santana.

They had not been affected by the hand-wringing over their poor Game 1 fielding, or by the supposedly intimidating noise and glare of the Metrodome (no postseason visiting team ever had won back-to-back games there before). In the end, the Yankees' arrow was pointing up.

"There's no doubt about it," Giambi said. "We started out Game 1 kind of slow, kind of tense. To be honest about it, I think everybody was just kind of shellshocked by the day game. Usually, everybody in New York is used to playing at 8 o'clock at night. Then we had the [Thursday] night game, and with the Yankee fans going crazy, we got that big win."

It all reached a crescendo yesterday. Giambi, who had been slumping early in the series, started the rally with a one-out double. Bernie Williams, who also had been in a dry spell, drove him home with a double down the left-field line. Posada singled, and Hideki Matsui doubled to bring Williams home for a 2-0 lead. Three batters later, the previously hitless Nick Johnson hit a two-run double and the rout was on.

"I loved every minute of it," said Wells, who was honored to be on the mound for the clinching game. "I've had a few opportunities to do that in my career. It's something I'll be able to tell my grandchildren. It looks good in the paper the next day."

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