Gleyber Torres got New York going with a second-inning home run, scored on each of his two doubles and made a pair of sparkling defensive plays, fueling the Yankees to a 5-1 victory over Minnesota on Monday night to finish yet another sweep of the Twins and advance to the AL Championship Series.
Didi Gregorius hit two RBI singles, Cameron Maybin homered, and Aroldis Chapman struck out three batters in a five-out save for the Yankees, who pushed their post-season winning streak over the Twins to 13. Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Gregorius also made outstanding defensive plays for key outs.
“All we did was to go out there and play our best baseball,” said Gregorius, who went 4 for 10 with six RBIs in the series and is 23 for 50 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in his last 14 games against Minnesota.
Following a 103-win regular season and their first AL East title since 2012, the Yankees will start the AL Championship Series on Saturday, either at Houston or at home against Tampa Bay.
“We’re focused already to the second series,” Torres said.
Thanks largely to their young star second baseman.
Employing an aggressive shift that had him in shallow right field, Torres slid and scooped a sharp grounder by Eddie Rosario with two on in the fifth and managed to throw him out from his knees to end the inning. In the seventh, Torres made a slick stop on a grounder by Jorge Polanco and flipped to Zack Britton covering first. Torres even stole third base after his double in the ninth.
“He played so well in this series, and then today, I think, just continued to show the world just how good a player he is on both sides of the ball,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Torres became the fifth-youngest Yankees player to register his first post-season homer, joining Mickey Mantle, Tony Kubek, Yogi Berra and Derek Jeter.
AL Central champion Minnesota became the first 100-win team swept in the Division Series and dropped to 2-16 against the Yankees in the playoffs since the 2004 ALDS opener. Outscored 23-7 in the series, the Twins batted just .218. After hitting a record 307 homers, they had just four in the Division Series, all solo shots.
Minnesota went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11, falling to 3 for 28 in the series with 25 left on base.
“Our guys should be walking out of that clubhouse with our heads held high, and they never stopped playing,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We got beat over the last three days, and there’s no way around that. That’s going to happen from time to time, but what an amazing season it was.”
Minnesota has lost 16 consecutive post-season games, tying the North American major sports record held by the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL from 1975-79.
Yankees starter Luis Severino pitched out of trouble for four scoreless innings in just his fourth big league appearance after recovering from a spring training lat muscle injury, escaping a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the seven.
Chad Green, the third of five relievers, got four outs for the win and Chapman froze Nelson Cruz with a 99 mph called third strike to end it. Yankees relievers allowed three runs over 13 1/3 innings, in the series.
Eddie Rosario went 3 for 4 for the Twins with a homer to lead off the eighth off Britton, who was limping a bit covering first base on a grounder two batters earlier and left in the eighth with assistance from head athletic trainer Steve Donahue.
On this idyllic fall evening that started at 62 degrees, the Twins trotted out Torii Hunter for the ceremonial first pitch to fellow retired fan favourite Joe Mauer, and the sellout crowd of 41,121 for the first post-season game at Target Field since the ballpark’s 2010 debut was buzzing.
The energy hardly ever deflated, even when the 22-year-old Torres became the fifth-youngest Yankees player to register a post-season homer in when he took Twins starter Jake Odorizzi deep. The ball barely cleared the dark green wall in left-centre.
Typifying this long-running lopsided matchup, almost all the could-go-either-way plays went to the Yankees, leaving the Twins largely shaking their heads at all their near misses.
Rosario hit what he thought was a homer to start the bottom of the second, stopping to admire the trajectory for a second, but the ball bounced off the 23-foot right field wall for a double. The Twins loaded the bases with nobody out, but Severino escaped with a pop-up and a pair of strikeouts. Jake Cave went down looking to end the inning, and in the top of the third his ill-advised, no-chance dive for a line drive by Gio Urshela that went for a double.
Sure enough, with two outs, after Miguel Sano had just shifted to his left, Brett Gardner chopped a single into the vacated space past the burly third baseman’s outstretched glove for a 2-0 lead. LeMahieu, batting immediately after Urshela, grounded out with a ball that would’ve been primed for a double play.
A few setbacks for the Twins were out of their hands. With runners at first and third, Mitch Garver took what appeared to be ball four on a 3-0 pitch by Severino, but plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called it a strike. Garver whiffed to end that inning, and the Twins left a total of nine runners on base while going 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees were impeccable in the field. LeMahieu made a slick leaping catch of a sharp line drive by Marwin Gonzalez to end the fourth. Then there were the plays by Torres.
The 6-foot-7 Judge made a jumping catch in front of the right-field warning track of a smash by Sano after a double by Luis Arraez in the sixth. Gregorius made a diving snag of fellow shortstop Polanco’s drive for the second out of the ninth, with two runners on, flashing a big smile after throwing the ball around the horn.
Severino, who didn’t make his 2019 debut until Sept. 17, threw a first-pitch ball to 11 of the 17 batters he faced, including all six in the second inning. He finished four scoreless innings, though, a far better output than his wild card game start against the Twins in 2017 when he fell behind 3-0 and was yanked after one out.
“We got killed by paper cuts tonight, solo homers and things we can manage,” Garver said. “We just couldn’t put up any runs on the board. That’s baseball.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Britton faced 67 left-handed batters in the regular season without allowing a home run. ... According to MLB’s Statcast data, Rosario’s double in the second was the third-highest extra-base hit in baseball in 2019, a pitch 4.22 feet above the ground. ... The Twins ranked just 26th in the majors with a .217 batting average with the bases loaded during the regular season. ... Sano went 1 for 12 with eight strikeouts in the series.
Yankees: With their optimal lineup finally available after an onslaught of injuries all season long, Boone used an identical batting order for the third straight time. The only other time this year he did so in three straight games was from Sept. 6-8.
“I do like the work and the flow we have right now. Obviously, it’s a little more healthier group than we’ve been,” Boone said. “So kind of have that luxury of rolling them out in some similar spots.”
Twins: Baldelli wrote his lineup with Cave in RF, Marwin Gonzalez at 1B and C.J. Cron on the bench. Cron, who pinch hit for Cave in the seventh inning, battled a sore thumb for most of the summer, but Baldelli said Cron was “definitely available” and not held out for health reasons.