It didn't matter that the Yankees had no hits in the first five innings Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, or that they still had just three hits entering the ninth. All that mattered was that Gary Sanchez came to the plate against Twins closer Fernando Rodney and rocketed a three-run walk-off home run into the left-field seats, giving the Yanks a 4-3 win and extending a six-game winning streak.
"If we can get traffic on the bases, we're always one swing away from our guys," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
The Yankees got that traffic when Didi Gregorius reached on an error to begin the ninth and Giancarlo Stanton followed with an infield hit. That brought up Sanchez, who was hitting .193 this season but already had five home runs.
"He had a real confident look up there," Boone said.
Sanchez was hitless on the day, but he had learned something from his first three plate appearances.
"I noticed through the game they were pitching me inside," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "I know Fernando Rodney is a good pitcher and he throws hard, but I was looking for a pitch I could hit."
Rodney indeed throws hard, and he tried to pitch Sanchez inside. The 96.5-mph fastball was the fastest pitch any Yankee has hit for a home run this season, according to Statcast™. It was the second time in his career Sanchez has homered on a pitch at least that fast, the other being a 99-mph Joe Kelly fastball last August.
The home run off Kelly tied a game the Yankees would go on to lose. This one finished off a four-game Yankees sweep of the Twins and earned Sanchez the Gatorade shower that goes to the game's star.
"I knew something was coming," Sanchez said of the shower. "I can just tell you it was cold."
The Yankees are hot, even if it didn't look that way in the early innings on Thursday. They were stifled by Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who allowed just one hit and struck out a career-high 10 in six innings. The Yankees didn't score until the seventh, when Stanton doubled off reliever Addison Reed and scored on Aaron Hicks' sacrifice fly.
New York didn't score again until Sanchez's home run on the final swing of the day.
It was the 59th career home run for the 25-year-old Sanchez, but it was his first walk-off.
"This definitely is up there, definitely a very exciting moment," Sanchez said. "The other special moment was when we made it to the playoffs, but this is up there."
It was an exciting ending, but a familiar result for a Twins-Yankees series in the Bronx. The Yanks have swept three of their past four home series against the Twins, whom they also defeated at home in last season's American League Wild Card Game.
The victim this time was Rodney, a 16-year veteran who is in his first season with the Twins.
"I was trying to get a ground-ball double play," Rodney said. "Threw the pitch a little bit high in the strike zone, that's why he could use his hands. He's got quick hands."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED Betances fans the side: Looking at the big picture, the Yankees had to be happy with how Dellin Betances looked in striking out the side in the ninth inning. Betances needed only 13 pitches to cut through the top third of the Twins' lineup, and 11 of his 13 pitches were strikes. It was the first time since April 5 that Betances had struck out the side.
"That was ho-hum Dellin at his best there," Boone said.
SOUND SMART Bert Blyleven had three 10-strikeout games against the Yankees, the last one coming in 1987. Only two Twins pitchers since then have fanned 10 Yanks in a game: Eric Milton in 2000 and Gibson on Thursday.
HE SAID IT "Our approach doesn't change whether they're in first place or last. Our approach is to win series." -- Sanchez, on the Yankees, whose next three opponents (Angels, Astros and Red Sox) entered play Thursday with a combined 51-23 record
UP NEXT Boone is a Southern California guy, and he spent most of the 1980s at Anaheim Stadium when his father Bob was playing for the Angels. Now he returns as the Yankees' skipper for a series that could captivate Japan if Shohei Ohtani bats against Masahiro Tanaka Saturday night. First, New York sends ace right-hander Luis Severino (4-1, 2.32 ERA) to the mound for Friday's 10:07 p.m. ET series opener, against left-hander Andrew Heaney (0-1, 9.64 ERA).
Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com based in New York.