Game 3 is often the most critical one in a five-game series. In any of the three possible scenarios, a win is important. When up 2-0, winning the third game gives the team the ability to line up their Game 1 starter to start Game 1 of the ALCS. When down 2-0, the season is on the line. When tied 1-1, a win gives the team a decided advantage heading into Game 4. The Yankees went with Andy Pettitte in Game 3 this time, hoping that his strong second half would carry over to the postseason.
The Yanks got everything they could have expected from Pettitte, and might have even left some in the tank. He threw 81 pitches over 6.1 innings, striking out seven and walking just one and limiting the Twins to just one run. That lone run came in the sixth after a bases empty, two outs situation. It was all the Twins would get all night. He exited after striking out Jason Kubel to lead off the seventh, though with his low pitch count and superb results on the night, perhaps he could have finished the inning.
Joba Chamberlain made that a moot point. He made a mistake to the first batter, Delmon Young, who drove one into the gap for a one-out double. But Chamberlain beared down, inducing a soft grounder from Matt Tolbert before striking out Jose Morales to end the inning. It set up the bullpen for Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera in the eighth and ninth.
The Twins threatened in the eighth, and if not for a baserunning blunder would have been in position to tie the game. Nick Punto, who hit over .400 in the series, hit a 2-2 pitch between Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon for a leadoff double. The next batter, Denard Span, slapped one up the middle, but Jeter cut it off before it could leave the infield. Seeing Punto take a wide turn around third, Jeter fired home. Punto had slipped on his way back, giving Jorge Posada enough time to throw him out at third.
A first and third, no outs situation turned into a runner on first, one out situation, and it seemingly deflated the Twins. Orlando Cabrera flied out to center for the second out. That brought Joe Mauer to the plate, and Girardi did not mess around. He went to Mariano Rivera to get the AL batting champ and presumptive MVP, and the at-bat followed the script. Mauer swung at the second pitch, a cutter in on the hands, breaking his bat and grounding weakly to first. Teixeira fielded, ending the minor threat.
Mo finished off the game in typical fashion, allowing just one hit while retiring the final three batters he faced. He hit his stride after allowing a leadoff single, striking out the next two hitters before inducing a grounder to end the game.
In his first season post-Yankees, Carl Pavano fared well against his former team in the regular season. He faced them twice, pitching 13.1 innings and allowing just four runs, splitting the match-ups. He started off Game 3 even better, striking out eight and allowing just three hits through six innings. It looked like he had control of the game, and when the Twins rallied for a run in the sixth it looked like the Yankees would have a tough road ahead.
The game changed in the seventh. After going down 0-2, Alex Rodriguez took three straight pitches outside the zone to work the count full. After fouling off a pitch, he got a fastball up and on the outside edge. It’s a pitch Alex handles well, and this time was no exception. He went with it, driving it high over the baggie in right for a game-tying home run. It was Rodriguez’s second home run and sixth RBI of the series, and the second time he tied the game with a homer.
With two outs and the bases empty, Jorge Posada stepped up. He took the first pitch, a changeup, well outside for ball one. Pavano then threw a good pitch, a sinker low and away, but Jorge timed it perfectly. Delmon Young gave the ball a chase, but it was just beyond his reach, in the stands for the go-ahead run. Fitting that the Yankees, who led the majors in homers (and homers on the road) this season took the lead on a pair of homers.
Even with Mariano Rivera to pitch the ninth, the Yankees knew insurance runs wouldn’t hurt. They picked up a few of those in the ninth. Ron Gardenhire used four pitchers in the inning, and none did the job satisfactorily. Ron Mahay recorded a strikeout and then walked Teixeira. Jon Rauch walked A-Rod. Jose Mijares walked Hideki Matsui. Joe Nathan then came on to face Jorge Posda, and surrendered and RBI single. Robinson Cano then blooped in a second insurance run.
Andy Pettitte’s contribution should not be understated. Over the past three postseasons, the Yankees couldn’t overcome their pitching problems. They rebuilt the rotation this season, and it’s a big reason why they had the best record in the regular season and then swept their way through the ALDS. Andy used two variations of what he calls his cutter — one a faster pitch that more resembles a fastball, and a slower one that more resembles a slider. That, mixed with his fastball, kept the Twins off-balance. Before their rally started with two outs in the sixth, Pettitte retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced.
Both the Yankees and Angels will enjoy a four-day vacation before squaring off in Game 1 of the ALCS Friday in the Bronx. Both teams will realign their rotations, meaning we’ll get the best possible match-ups. We’ll have plenty to say over the next few days, but for now I’m just going to enjoy this one. It sure does feel good to have the Yanks past the first round of the playoffs.