MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Alex Rodriguez finally delivered the playoff performance he needed and his talent demanded, powering the New York Yankees back to the AL championship series.
During this first-round sweep of the Twins, Rodriguez's performance was nothing like all those oh-fers of Octobers past.
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 ALCS in five years with a 4-1 victory over Minnesota on Sunday night.
Rodriguez got off to a rocky start this year when he admitted in spring training to using steroids when he was with the Texas Rangers. Then he had hip surgery and missed the first month of the season as the Yankees stumbled out of the gate.
But baseball's highest-paid player returned with a more positive outlook, and New York surged to the top of the AL East.
Still, the third baseman entered this postseason in an 0-for-27 slide with runners on base dating to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.
"I knew that I couldn't change all the 0-for-4s, 0-for-5s and all the guys I left on base," said Rodriguez, who went 5 for 11 with two homers and six RBIs in these three games. "I'm content right now, both on and off the field."
Mariano Rivera got the last four outs in the final baseball game at the Metrodome, preserving Andy Pettitte's record-tying 15th career postseason win.
The Yankees will host the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night after missing the playoffs altogether in 2008.
"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."
Teammate Derek Jeter offered plenty of praise.
"The most impressive thing? He hit home runs when we needed him to," Jeter said. "He's been doing it all year really. He's been seeing the ball well the whole year."
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. Doing that against the team that led the majors with 103 wins doomed them.
"It seems like just yesterday that we were pouring champagne for winning the division, and now it's over," catcher Joe Mauer said. "It just burns that we're done. I'm still trying to figure that one out."
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 Jeter, and he was thrown out trying to retreat to third base.
Posada, who was upset when he was benched for Jose Molina with A.J. Burnett on the mound on Friday, gave Rivera more room with an RBI single in a two-run ninth as the crowd began to file out of the Dome for the final time.
Pettitte, who retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced, left Joba Chamberlain a 2-1 lead with one out in the seventh. He matched John Smoltz for postseason victories, getting his first such win for the Yankees since the 2003 World Series against Pavano's Florida Marlins, who won it all that year.
The Yankees Are Headed To The American League Championship
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