New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Jerry Hairston Jr. celebrate in the locker room after the Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins 4-1 in Game 3 of the American League division baseball series.
After so many October misses, Alex Rodriguez delivered the playoff performance his talent demanded.
Rodriguez and Jorge Posada hit seventh-inning home runs to spoil Carl Pavano's opportunity to frustrate New Yorkers one more time, and the Yankees advanced to their first AL championship series in five years with a 4-1 victory and sweep of Minnesota on Sunday night.
Mariano Rivera closed out Game 3 — the last baseball game at the Metrodome — to preserve Andy Pettitte's record-tying 15th career postseason win.
Game 1 of the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels will be at Yankee Stadium on Friday night. The teams were 5-5 against each this season. The Angels swept Boston earlier in the day.
"It's exciting," Rodriguez said. "We were very disappointed last year when we went home, and ownership got us some good players. We came out and played like a team, like a group of brothers."
This pitching duel between former teammates Pettitte and Pavano ended with another first-round playoff victory in Minnesota for the Yankees, who also eliminated the Twins here in 2003 and 2004.
"I was trying to match zeros with him," Pettitte said.
For all their success this decade by being so good at the basics, the Twins made glaring gaffes at the worst times — against the team that led the majors with 103 wins, they were doomed.
The Yankees aren't about to let an opponent get away with overrunning the bases, as Carlos Gomez did in Game 2 to cost the Twins a run. Nick Punto then wasted his leadoff double in the eighth by failing to see that Denard Span's single didn't get past shortstop Derek Jeter, and he was thrown out trying to retreat to third base.
Pavano's renaissance was upstaged by Rodriguez, who's starting to make up for all those past postseasonr failures, and Posada, who proved he wasn't too proud to publicly wish he started Game 2.
Rodriguez went 5 for 11 with two homers and six RBIs in these three games. Posada complained about being benched for Jose Molina with A.J. Burnett on the mound on Friday.
Posada gave Rivera more room with an RBI single in a two-run ninth against the Minnesota bullpen, as the crowd began to file out of the Dome for the final time.
Pettitte retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced and left Joba Chamberlain a 2-1 lead and one out in the seventh.
Pettitte matched John Smoltz for career postseason victories. Pettitte's previous such win came back in the 2003 World Series against Pavano's Florida Marlins, who won it all that year.
The Yankees haven't experienced that euphoria since 2000, the Pettitte-Posada battery, closer Rivera and captain Jeter the only pieces left from that squad.
Rivera, a 10-time All-Star, came in to get Joe Mauer on a bat-shattering groundout to end the eighth after the Twins blew their chance to score against Phil Hughes thanks to Punto's blunder. Manager Ron Gardenhire had his hands to his head in exasperation, and Orlando Cabrera followed with a fly out to center field that could've got the run in.
Rivera then closed out the ninth for save.
The Twins left 26 runners on base over the first two games, including 17 in the 11-inning defeat in Game 2, failing to get those big hits. The Twins enjoyed a power surge during the regular season, but they didn't go deep at all in this series. The AL East champion Yankees hit six homers.
Pavano couldn't have started stronger against the team that couldn't wait to get rid of him after four forgettable seasons in pinstripes. He struck out four during the first trip through baseball's best lineup — the Yankees led the majors in runs, home runs and on-base percentage during the regular season — and the only hit he gave up in the first four innings didn't make it out of the infield.
Effectively spotting his changeup and sinker, Pavano completed seven innings with a season-high nine strikeouts and no walks. That was more than half of his total with the Yankees all of last year, the last of his injury-filled seasons with them.
The last professional baseball game under this billowing roof was supposed to be a week ago. After beating Detroit in an AL Central tiebreaker on Tuesday night, here the Twins were, playing in front of another packed stadium.
They made every game down the stretch count for more than just a last-chance-to-see-the-Metrodome memory, catching Detroit with 17 wins in their last 21 games including that epic tiebreaker game for the division title on Tuesday.
Ah, but these Yankees aren't the same as the Tigers or the White Sox or the Royals, as the Twins were painfully reminded during the first two games in New York — and again on Sunday.
Mauer's two-out single justified the "MVP!" chants, gave the Twins their first lead at home over the Yankees in four games this year, and made it three straight runners on against Pettitte in the bottom of the sixth.
The 37-year-old left-hander, who became the all-time major league leader in postseason innings pitched, snapped back to strike out Michael Cuddyer on a high fastball. Pettitte pumped his fist as he headed to the dugout.
Then Pavano's performance was quickly blemished by the big opposite field homers by Rodriguez and Posada. Rodriguez had fallen behind 0-and-2 before working the count full. Just like that, the Yankees were back in front.
NOTES: Pavano's nine strikeouts marked a Twins record for a postseason game. Not even Jack Morris had that many in those 10 shutout innings of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris struck out eight. ... After his rare unassisted double play in field, Cuddyer was thrown out on an even rarer 9-6 fielder's choice. The low liner skipped past Cano at second base so fast Nick Swisher was able to field it in right and throw for the force out. ... Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who has been on the staff since 1981, threw out the honorary first pitch. ... The Yankees are 51-1 this season when limiting their opponent to two runs or less.