Minneapolis — Gleyber Torres got New York going with a second-inning home run, scored on each of his two doubles and made a pair of sparkling defensive plays, fueling the Yankees to a 5-1 victory over Minnesota on Monday night to finish yet another sweep of the Twins and advance to the AL Championship Series.
Didi Gregorius hit two RBI singles and Cameron Maybin homered for the Yankees, who stretched their postseason winning streak over the Twins to 13 straight games.
“The way we played tonight was championship-caliber baseball,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said during the clubhouse celebration. “Just really proud of the effort, ‘cause I know we wanted to finish this off and get back home.”
Following a 103-win regular season and its first AL East title since 2012, New York, starts the AL Championship Series on Saturday, at home against Tampa Bay or at Houston.
“We’re focused already to the second series,” Torres said.
AL Central champion Minnesota became the first 100-win team swept in the Division Series. The Twins are 2-16 against the Yankees in the playoffs since the 2004 ALDS opener. Outscored 23-7 in the series, they batted just .218 and after hitting a record 307 homers had just four in the Division Series, all solo shots.
Minnesota has lost 16 consecutive postseason games, matching the North American major sports record held by the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL from 1975-79.
“Our guys should be walking out of that clubhouse with our heads held high, and they never stopped playing,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We got beat over the last three days, and there’s no way around that. That’s going to happen from time to time, but what an amazing season it was.”
Yankees starter Luis Severino pitched out of trouble for four scoreless innings in just his fourth big league appearance after recovering from a spring training lat injury. Chad Green, the third of five relievers, got four outs for the win and Aroldis Chapman got the final five outs, freezing Nelson Cruz with a 99 mph called third strike to end it.
Gregorius went 4-for-10 with six RBIs in the series. Dating to the 2017 wild card game, he’s 23 for 50 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in just 14 games against the Twins.
“All we did was to go out there and play our best baseball,” Gregorius said.
Eddie Rosario went 3-for-4 for the Twins with a homer to lead off the eighth off Zack Britton, who was limping a bit after covering first base on a grounder two batters earlier and left in the eighth with assistance from head athletic trainer Steve Donahue. Yankees relievers allowed three runs over 13⅓ innings, in the series.
On this idyllic fall evening that started at 62 degrees, the Twins trotted out Torii Hunter for the ceremonial first pitch to fellow retired fan favorite Joe Mauer, and the sellout crowd of 41,121 for the first postseason game at Target Field since the ballpark’s 2010 debut was buzzing.
The energy hardly ever deflated, even when the 22-year-old Torres became the fifth-youngest Yankees player to register a postseason homer in when he took Twins starter Jake Odorizzi deep. The ball barely cleared the dark green wall in left-center.
Typifying this long-running lopsided matchup, almost all the could-go-either-way plays went to the Yankees, leaving the Twins largely shaking their heads at all their near misses.
Rosario hit what he thought was a homer to start the bottom of the second, stopping to admire the trajectory for a second, but the ball bounced off the 23-foot right field wall for a double. The Twins loaded the bases with nobody out, but Severino escaped with a pop-up and a pair of strikeouts. Jake Cave went down looking to end the inning, and in the top of the third his ill-advised, no-chance dive for a line drive by Gio Urshela that went for a double.
Sure enough, with two outs, after Miguel Sanó had just shifted to his left, Brett Gardner chopped a single into the vacated space past the burly third baseman’s outstretched glove for a 2-0 lead. D.J. LeMahieu (Birmingham Brother Rice), batting immediately after Urshela, grounded out with a ball that would’ve been primed for a double play.
A few setbacks for the Twins were out of their hands. With runners at first and third, Mitch Garver took what appeared to be ball four on a 3-0 pitch by Severino, but plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called it a strike. Garver whiffed to end that inning, and the Twins left a total of nine runners on base while going 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees were impeccable in the field. LeMahieu made a slick leaping catch of a sharp line drive by Marwin Gonzalez to end the fourth. Torres, employing an aggressive shift at second base that had him in shallow right field, scooped a sharp grounder by Rosario with two on in the fifth and managed to throw him out from his knees to end the inning. Torres again came up big again in the seventh with a stop on a Jorge Polanco grounder and flip to Britton covering first.
Lanky right fielder Aaron Judge made a jumping catch on the warning track of a smash by Sanó after a double by Luis Arraez in the sixth. Gregorius made a diving snag of fellow shortstop Polanco’s drive for the second out of the ninth, with two runners on, flashing a big smile after throwing the ball around the horn.
Severino, who didn’t make his 2019 debut until Sept. 17, threw a first-pitch ball to 11 of the 17 batters he faced, including all six in the second inning. He finished four scoreless innings, though, a far better output than his wild card game start against the Twins in 2017 when he fell behind 3-0 and was yanked after one out.
(At) Tampa Bay 10, Houston 3: Charlie Morton to the rescue, again.
Kevin Kiermaier hit a go-ahead, three-run homer as Tampa Bay teed off on Zack Greinke, and the Rays got another clutch playoff performance from Morton to beat the Astros and cut their AL Division Series deficit to 2-1.
Facing the team he helped win the World Series two years ago, Morton allowed one run and three hits while striking out nine over five innings. The 35-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with an 0.95 ERA in four career elimination starts, including last week’s wild-card win at Oakland.
“It’s just what Charlie’s done all year,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s got that knack for doing some special things for us, and he did it again.”
Astros manager AJ Hinch announced after the game that Houston will start Justin Verlander on three days of rest in Game 4 of the best-of-five matchup at Tropicana Field on Tuesday. Tampa Bay will use Diego Castillo as an opener.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the world. No more complicated than that,” Hinch said of Verlander. “He’s ready, and it’s his game.”
Kiermaier got the wild-card Rays going with his long home run in the second inning. Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe added solo shots off Greinke, who has never won in Tampa Bay, and Willy Adames added a solo blast against Wade Miley in the sixth.
Tampa Bay’s four home runs matched a franchise record for a postseason game. The Rays also went deep four times against the Boston Red Sox during the 2008 AL Championship Series and did it again during last week’s 5-1 wild-card victory against the Athletics.
Jose Altuve homered for the Astros, who are one victory away from their third straight appearance in the ALCS, and had two of Houston’s three hits off Morton. It was Altuve’s 10th career postseason home run, tied with Chase Utley for the most by a second baseman in major league history.
Morton, who won 29 games for Houston over two seasons before joining the Rays as a free agent last offseason, departed with an 8-1 lead. Four relievers finished the combined seven-hitter for the Rays, who have never been swept in a playoff series.
Now, they must avoid being “Verlandered” — a term coined by Cash after the series opener — in Game 4.
“He’s tough. We’ve got to enjoy what we accomplished today and certainly hope we can have better at-bats, production, get something going against him,” Cash said. “We’ll worry about that (Tuesday). Right now, the guys are pretty pumped about what they just did tonight.”
Verlander, who pitched seven scoreless inning to win Game 1, has only started on fewer than the standard four days of rest once. That was in the 2011 ALDS, when his first appearance was limited to one inning by rain.
“The thought process is five-game series are pretty crazy and we’ve got to win. Never know what can happen,” Verlander said. “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket and say if we lose tomorrow, we’ve got Justin and Gerrit (Cole) for Game 5. It’s a crazy game.”
The Astros won the first two games with a pair of dominating pitching performances from Verlander and Cole, who combined to limit the Rays to one unearned run and five hits with 23 strikeouts over 14⅔ innings. Houston’s other pitchers have allowed 12 earned runs in 11⅓ frames, an ERA of 9.53.
American League Division Series
Houston vs. Tampa Bay
Houston leads 2-1
Oct. 4: Houston 6-2
Oct. 5: Houston 3-1
Monday: Tampa Bay 10-3
Tuesday: Houston (Verlander 21-6) at Tampa Bay (Castillo 5-8), 4:15 or 7:07 (FS1)
x-Thursday: at Houston, TBA (FS1)
N.Y. Yankees vs. Minnesota
New York wins series 3-0
Oct. 4: N.Y. Yankees 10-4
Oct. 5: N.Y. Yankees 8-2
Monday: N.Y Yankees 5-1