Yankees 6, Twins 5
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.
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."
The Yankees wouldn't have been in that position had they not produced another in a long line of big comebacks this season. They had a major league record 61 in the regular season and nine of them came after they trailed by at least four runs.
When Sheffield walked to the plate leading off the eighth against Juan Rincon, he heard Torre yell from the bench.
"I heard Skip yelling, 'Just get one run at a time,' " Sheffield said. "I just knew in my head that if we score one run, we could score others."
Sheffield was right. He reached on an infield single and moved to second on a wild pitch. After Hideki Matsui walked, Bernie Williams singled to center to drive home Sheffield.
Sierra was next and he worked the count to 2-2 before walloping a hanging curve on the outer half of the plate. "I wasn't trying to hit a home run," Sierra said. "But I knew if I hit it good, it would go out."
Sierra's shot landed on the closed seats above the wall in right-center that resembles a gigantic baggie. When Sierra hit it, Derek Jeter's first thought was, "Don't hit the baggie."
Fortunately for the Yankees, it did not.
"I wanted to hug everybody," Sheffield said.
Sheffield and the rest of the Yankees had a chance to do that a few innings later, after yet another classic for a franchise that seems to specialize in them.
"You think you've never seen another game like it," Torre said, "and then all of a sudden, another one pops up."