MINNEAPOLIS – Sure, the New York Yankees stumbled through September as Andy Pettitte tried to work his way back from a groin injury.
After landing in the A.L. wild-card spot, the defending World Series champs look as though they had the Minnesota Twins right where they wanted them.
Pettitte turned in a vintage performance on Thursday evening with seven smooth innings and Lance Berkman had two big hits in a 5-2 victory by the Yankees over their favorite postseason punching bag for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five division series.
Berkman hit a go-ahead home run in the fifth and a tiebreaking double in the seventh against Carl Pavano, sending the Twins to their 11th straight postseason loss – eight of those have come against the Yankees, who trailed in each of those games.
From the point of the Twins’ biggest lead in those games, the Yankees have outscored them 42-8.
Mariano Rivera got three outs for his second save of the series, extending his postseason record to 41 and running his career total to 600, including 559 in the regular season. The road team has won all four games in the two AL playoff series.
Berkman, yet another big-name veteran finding a place on a Yankees postseason roster, even on the downside of his career, made it 2-1 with his drive into the left-center bullpen in the fifth. His double in the seventh – one pitch after it appeared Pavano sneaked strike three past him – drove in Jorge Posada and gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
“That’s why I wanted to come over here, just to get a chance to play in these games,” Berkman said.
The disputed call by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt led to the ejection of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire following Berkman’s double, and Pavano soon exited before getting another out. He allowed 10 hits and four runs.
Derek Jeter chased his old teammate off the mound with a half-swing RBI single to make it 4-2. Curtis Granderson scored New York’s first run and came up with three more hits. And the Yankees headed back home for Game 3 on Saturday night with a commanding lead over the team they own in October.
“We’ve got a big hill to climb. It’s not going to be easy, but it can be done,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve seen it done before, and this club is never going to quit.”
Pettitte retired 12 in a row until Orlando Hudson’s homer tied it at 2 in the sixth. He needed only 88 pitches to finish seven innings, with five hits and two runs allowed. He walked one and struck out four, deftly escaping a couple of tricky spots.
“I just think the biggest part of it is being able to control your emotions,” Pettitte said, pointing to his “tunnel vision” in critical situations. “Nothing’s going to faze you. Nothing’s going to make you nervous.”