NEW YORK -- The Yankees’ formula for a deep October run centers upon their big-swinging lineup and an equally strong bullpen, one that they believe will ultimately give them the edge in this power-versus-power American League Division Series showdown with the Twins.
It can’t hurt that they have history on their side: the names have changed, but the outcome remained the same on Friday. DJ LeMahieu homered and drove in four runs, Brett Gardner also went deep and the Yankees’ prized relief corps combined for 4 1/3 strong innings, fueling a 10-4 victory over Minnesota in Game 1 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium.
“I feel like we had a lot of opportunities to score with a lot of guys on base,” LeMahieu said. “We did a really good job against their pitchers. To come through there in a couple of situations felt good."
The Yankees improved to 101-37 against the Twins since 2002, including 14-2 in the postseason, where they have won 11 straight over Minnesota -- the franchise’s longest postseason winning streak against any opponent. The Yanks are now tied with the Red Sox (vs. the Angels) for the longest postseason win streak by a team against a single opponent all-time. The Red Sox won 11 straight over the Angels from 1986-2008, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.Though they aren’t hyping themselves with highlight reels of the Derek Jeter era, Aaron Judge said that they can borrow something from the more recent chapters.
“A lot of guys here were on the 2017 team when we were down 3-0 to Minnesota [in the first inning of the AL Wild Card Game],” Judge said. “Past experience like that, you can feed off of. Once we got that first run, you just focus on your at-bats and do your job. We'll be where we want to be.”
After Gleyber Torres played a supporting role by rapping a third-inning grounder that first baseman C.J. Cron flubbed for a two-run error, the standout 22-year-old delivered in what manager Aaron Boone called “a big-time at-bat” in the fifth, connecting for a go-ahead two-run double off reliever Tyler Duffey.
“We know what we’ve got in our lineup,” Torres said. “We just be patient, waiting for the opportunity. We take advantage of mistakes and with all of the really good at-bats everyone takes, we’ll win the night.”
Duffey said that the sellout crowd of 49,233 played a part in the Yanks’ rally, comparing the rising decibel level to the roar of a jet engine.
“These fans love to get loud over nothing,” Duffey said. “If you give them a reason, they’re really going to get loud. You get behind, 3-2, they’re going to let you have it. I got booed for stepping off. It’s what postseason baseball is about.”
James Paxton worked 4 2/3 innings in his postseason debut, striking out eight while withstanding Jorge Polanco's first-inning solo homer and a third-inning solo shot off Nelson Cruz's bat. Those deep drives were no surprise, given the shared strength of these heavyweight opponents, the only clubs in Major League history to slug 300 or more homers in a season.
With the bullpen warming and Paxton clinging to a one-run lead in the fifth inning, the lefty engaged Polanco in a nine-pitch battle, tossing seven curveballs. The last curveball was stroked into left-center field for a game-tying RBI single, ending an 86-pitch effort in which Paxton scattered five hits with a walk.
“Of course I want to go deeper in the game,” Paxton said. “I'd like to have better success out there and go deep in the game and be able to help save the bullpen guys. I know it's a little different in the postseason. It's a team effort.”
Judge scored two runs, walking twice with a single, but the slugger’s biggest contributions were made with his glove. Judge made a pair of diving catches in right field, stealing a third-inning hit from Polanco and then robbing Eddie Rosario with an even finer grab in the seventh.
“I try to do that all year, play both sides,” Judge said. “It's huge. Our pitchers are out there battling, and we've got to go out and make a play. Any time it's hit, this is the postseason -- you've got to make those plays.”
While the Twins can match the Yanks’ muscle, the later innings of Game 1 offered a reminder that New York is set up to win any battle of the bullpens. Boone aggressively doled his high-leverage workload to Adam Ottavino, Kahnle, Chad Green and Zack Britton, and Yanks relievers combined to allow a run on two hits.
“They've got big guys that can do some damage anywhere,” Britton said. “You've got to make good pitches all the way through this lineup. If you don't, they'll get you.”
“It's nice to get this first one under our belt,” Gardner said. “We'll take things one day at a time. Tomorrow is another must-win game for us.”