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Yanks Win In 11th for Return Trip To ALCS

Sierra's 3-Run Homer In 8th Sparks Comeback: Yankees 6, Twins 5

By Jim Baumbach
Sunday, October 10, 2004; Page E01

MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 9 -- What was widely believed to be inevitable from the day in February that pitchers and catchers reported to camp became a reality yesterday.

The New York Yankees will face the Boston Red Sox in a rematch of last year's epic American League Championship Series, and the way they did it was fitting. In a season dominated by comebacks, the Yankees once again rallied from a significant deficit.

Alex Rodriguez, left, and Derek Jeter celebrate after the Yankees finished off the Twins by winning three straight games for the second year in a row. Next up: the Boston Red Sox. (Ann Heisenfelt -- AP)

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The Twins entered the eighth inning leading 5-1 and looking primed to force the best-of-five series back to New York for a decisive Game 5 on Sunday night. The never-say-die Yankees, who lost Game 1 of this series and then fell behind in the top of the 12th of Game 2 before rallying to win, wouldn't let it happen.

They tied it with a four-run eighth that was capped by Ruben Sierra's three-run homer, and they won it 6-5 in the 11th against Kyle Lohse when Alex Rodriguez single-handedly produced a run that scored on a wild pitch, of all things.

After Mariano Rivera got Shannon Stewart to ground to second baseman Miguel Cairo for the final out, the Yankees jogged onto the field and looked as if they didn't exactly know how to celebrate.

While some players embraced, others simply shook hands. Even when they walked from the field to the visiting clubhouse at the Metrodome, there wasn't much emotion. The business-as-usual approach lasted until the clubhouse door closed. And then they let loose.

"I ain't never thought I'd love to see Boston this much," Gary Sheffield said.

"It's going to be nuts," Manager Joe Torre said. "I anticipate it's going to be the same kind of emotional roller coaster."

"First I'm going to enjoy the next two days," Rodriguez said. "I'm as tired as a person can be. I'm going to sleep all day tomorrow."

Rodriguez deserves the time off. He took heat this season for his .248 batting average with runners in scoring position -- people expect more from a player who was signed to a 10-year, $252 million contract -- but so far he has turned things around dramatically in the postseason.

After hitting a game-tying double in the 12th inning of Game 2, he came up huge in the late innings Saturday.

He led off the ninth inning against Twins closer Joe Nathan with a double, but was stranded. When he lashed a one-out double down the third base line in the 11th, he made sure that didn't happen again.

With Sheffield at the plate, Rodriguez stole third without a throw on a 1-1 pitch. Four pitches later, he scored easily when Lohse's off-speed pitch bounced in front of backup catcher Pat Borders and then veered to his left.

"That's what makes him the best player in the game," Sheffield said. "He steals bases. He hits home runs. He hits extra base hits. That's what makes him special."

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