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Yanks come back, finish off Twins10/09/2004 11:45 PM ET
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Goodbye Minnesota, hello Boston.
The Yankees finished off the Twins on Saturday with yet another dramatic comeback, taking a 6-5 decision in 11 innings at the Metrodome to win the American League Division Series, three games to one.
New York advances to the AL Championship Series for a second consecutive year for a rematch of last year's memorable seven-game series against the Boston Red Sox.
"I think that's what everyone expected," said Derek Jeter. "I've said all year that I'd love to play them, because that means we're there."
Alex Rodriguez scored the game-winner on a Kyle Lohse wild pitch, sending the Yankees to the ALCS for the seventh time since 1996.
In Joe Torre's nine years as manager, the Yankees are now 17-7 in games in which they had a chance to close out a series.
"That's what makes him the best player in baseball," said Gary Sheffield. "The little things, extra-base hits, stolen bases, to do the things that he does, he's a special guy. I'm proud of him."
Ruben Sierra made the victory possible with a three-run home run in the eighth, capping a four-run inning that tied the game at 5.
"He's come up with a lot of big hits, which is tough to do when you don't play every day," Jeter said. "He has a great attitude, and when he gets an opportunity to play, he makes the most of it. He couldn't have come up with a bigger hit tonight."
Javier Vazquez allowed a run in the first, but the Yankees battled back to tie it up in the third on Hideki Matsui's RBI single against Johan Santana, who was pitching on three days' rest.
The Yankees were patient against Santana, raising his pitch count as the left-hander labored through inning after inning.
"I think they had a different plan in this game. They tried to wear me out," said Santana, who beat New York in Game 1. "They were taking some pitches, taking full counts. The last couple times, they were swinging early. I stayed with it the whole time."
Vazquez, making his postseason debut, settled down after allowing the two hits to start the game, holding the Twins without another hit until the fourth.
Vazquez walked Torii Hunter to start the fourth, then Sheffield misplayed a ball hit by Justin Morneau, losing it against the backdrop of the Metrodome roof. The ball fell about 20 feet behind Sheffield, putting runners at the corners on Morneau's double.
"I felt like a helpless child," Sheffield said. "I didn't see it as soon as he swung. I looked at [Miguel] Cairo, who ran back like it was going to be right over his head, so I ran in."
Corey Koskie's sacrifice fly to left scored Hunter to give the Twins a 2-1 lead, but Minnesota broke out against Vazquez in the fifth, starting with Henry Blanco's solo home run.
Vazquez retired the next two batters, but two singles and a pitch into Koskie's elbow loaded the bases for Lew Ford, who roped a double to left, scoring two runs to give the Twins a 5-1 lead.
With a four-run cushion, Ron Gardenhire turned to his bullpen, satisfied with the five-inning performance from Santana. The southpaw allowed one run on five hits and three walks, striking out seven. The Yankees put baserunners on in each of the 12 innings against Santana in the series, but only one of 19 came around to score.
Vazquez also left after five, though his line wasn't as good as Santana's, allowing five runs on seven hits and two walks, striking out six.
Grant Balfour dominated New York in two innings of work, but Juan Rincon had trouble in the eighth. Sheffield reached on an infield single to start the inning and Matsui walked. Bernie Williams lined a single to right-center, scoring Sheffield and bringing the tying run to the plate.
"Skip told us in the dugout to just get one run at a time," Sheffield said. "I knew I was leading off, so I just had to get on base. If we could score one, we could score another. We just kept fighting."
Rincon struck out Jorge Posada for the first out, but Sierra drilled a 2-2 pitch over the baggie in right field, tying the game at 5.
"I knew it was gone," Sierra said. "I was trying to make contact with something close to the plate. He was throwing away most of the time, but I was hoping he'd throw something close that I could get in front of."
"It's just 25 guys with a lot of heart. We were like a college team there in the eighth inning, cheering each other up," Rodriguez said. "It was a fun to be part of such a community."
Tom Gordon tossed two scoreless innings, while Joe Nathan pitched part of the eighth and then the ninth for Minnesota, which then called on Lohse, who answered the bell with a perfect 10th.
After Mariano Rivera sat the Twins down in order in the 10th, A-Rod belted a double down the left-field line with one out, putting the go-ahead run at second with one out.
"I was just looking for a pitch that I wanted to get in the air," Rodriguez said. "I wanted to get my money's worth. The pitch was pretty good and I pulled it hard down the left-field line."
A-Rod stole third to move within 90 feet of home, then scored when Lohse uncorked a 2-2 wild pitch that got by catcher Pat Borders, allowing Rodriguez to slide in and give the Yankees a 6-5 lead.
"This game, we have to go get it. It was not going to come to us," Rodriguez said. "The game was kind of coming to a stalemate and with Mo out there you have to take advantage of that. I felt like, why not take a chance? The wild pitch was beautiful."
"Statistics are one thing, but trying to win a game is another thing," said manager Joe Torre. "Statistics will probably be what a lot of people look at when they look at A-Rod after he's finished playing, but you really have to appreciate how talented he is. The instinct he has really works for him, and today was a perfect example. He manufactured that last run all by himself."
Rivera closed out the game, finishing off the Twins and setting up what promises to be another historic week against the Red Sox.
"Every day, every game like this, you think you've never seen one like it and all of a sudden, another one pops up," Torre said. "I couldn't be more proud of the ballclub. There's no secret formula other than playing nine innings, and today it was 11."
Now, the Yankees will have two days to rest up and get ready for the next chapter in the greatest rivalry in sports.
"I am going to enjoy the next two days and sleep the next two days," Rodriguez said. "We'll worry about Boston on Tuesday."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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