Yanks bats sizzle to cap sweep of Twins
Ichiro misses cycle by a home run; Phelps takes step forward
MINNEAPOLIS -- As usual, a visit to Target Field delivered just the confidence boost that the Yankees craved, rescuing their flagging road trip and rocketing them back to New York with more to celebrate than just the holiday.
Ichiro Suzuki and Travis Hafner each had three hits and Vernon Wells drove in three runs to power the Yankees' Independence Day barrage in a 9-5 victory over the Twins on Thursday, completing a four-game sweep.
"It was good -- the offense picked it up a lot, which was great to see," Hafner said. "The important thing was getting four wins, which is tough to do. Overall, we played well. Hopefully, now offensively we can keep it going."
Ichiro finished a homer shy of the cycle and David Phelps pitched 6 1/3 innings of four-run ball for the Yankees, who arrived in town trying to shake a five-game losing streak after being swept by the Orioles in a weekend series at Camden Yards.
"After some disappointing games in Baltimore, we won all kinds of different games here," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's encouraging. We swung the bats well here, and that's encouraging."
New York outscored Minnesota, 29-14, in the set, pounding rookie right-hander Kyle Gibson for eight runs and 11 hits in the series finale. It was the Yanks' first sweep since they took three straight games from the Indians in New York from June 3-5.
"We were glad to see June go away and July start," Wells said. "The important thing is scoring runs and adding runs on, taking advantage of mistakes. We're getting pitches up in the zone, and we're not missing them. This is obviously a good thing heading back home, where we can obviously do some damage in our park."
Sporting gray caps with a stars-and-stripes "NY" logo, the Yankees put a lead in Phelps' back pocket quickly. Robinson Cano lifted a sacrifice fly and Wells rapped a two-run single in a three-run first inning.
That's nothing out of the ordinary, as the Yanks have won seven of their last eight games against the Twins and nine of their last 11 at Target Field.
"I wish we had answers for all of that stuff and why they play so well here," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They've got great players -- they've always had great players since I took over as manager -- and great players do good things. Even when they're hurt, they know how to win. Even those kids playing for them know how to win ballgames and get big hits."
Bouncing back from the worst start of his big league career, a nine-run thumping in Baltimore, Phelps said it was crucial to send a message by blanking the Twins with a shutdown first inning.
"That's when you really want to put up a zero," Phelps said. "You want to get us back and hitting as soon as possible. You've got a chance to really put your foot on their throat right there, early. We did a good job of that today."
Wells and newcomer Luis Cruz tacked on run-scoring hits to give New York a 5-0 lead in the third inning. Wells has been working with hitting coach Kevin Long on using his back side more and staying behind the ball, with good results to show for it on Thursday.
"I think the swings are better," Wells said. "The things that K-Long and I are working on, we'll keep working on them, keep taking several swings until it's as comfortable as it can be. The biggest thing is, if you get results, you're happy."
The Bombers blew the game open with four more runs in the sixth, paced by Ichiro's two-run triple up the gap in right-center field. Alberto Gonzalez and Zoilo Almonte also drove in runs for the Yankees.
"A lot of guys really swung the bats well today," Hafner said. "We needed it, I think. This series was good for us, and hopefully we'll just keep that going."
Tinkering with his curveball, Phelps walked none and struck out five around eight hits to pick up a breezy victory. He worked into the seventh, having allowed just Justin Morneau's fourth-inning homer before running low on gas.
"I thought his location was better; I thought his curveball was a little bit better," Girardi said of Phelps. "He used his changeup. I thought he was a little bit better with his cutter, too."
The Twins added three runs off Phelps and two relievers to chip away, and Morneau connected for a long eighth-inning homer off Boone Logan to chip away at the large lead.
But the Yankees had already shifted into cruise control by then, counting down the final outs as they improved to 14-3 against American League Central clubs this season. Next up: a rematch with the Orioles.
"We're going home for a long stretch and we're bringing some momentum with us," Phelps said. "It would have been real easy to just take what happened in Baltimore and carry it into here, but we've got a good group of guys and we put it behind us."