Yanks sweep Twins, return to ALCS
Another ALCS trip for the Yankees; another quick October exit for the Twins
Phil Hughes worked seven scoreless innings in his first career postseason start
The Twins have lost 12 straight playoff games, the last nine to the Yankees
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NEW YORK (AP) -- Mariano Rivera got the last out, sealing yet another October triumph. Jorge Posada trotted out to mound, and the Yankees came out of the dugout in a businesslike manner to shake each other's hands.
No crazy celebration, at least not yet.
Postseason step No. 1 accomplished. Two more to go before the New York Yankees' big party can start.
And yet another quick October exit for the Minnesota Twins.
Phil Hughes pitched seven shutout innings, Marcus Thames and Nick Swisher homered and the Yankees beat the Twins 6-1 Saturday night to complete yet another three-game sweep of Minnesota and return to the AL championship series.
"We have a a long way to go," Derek Jeter said. "We gained a lot of confidence, the way we did last year in the playoffs."
Even newcomers sense only part of the mission is complete.
"That's three down," said Thames, whose fourth-inning homer blew open the game, "but we've got eight more games to go."
For starters, though, the Yankees sped past the Twins with ease. It's not just a pair of playoff victories for New York against Minnesota, but four in the last decade -- all in the first round.
"This is not much fun at all, to come up here, being knocked out, knowing your season is over with again after three games in the playoffs," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've had that a few times."
New York begins the ALCS on Friday at Texas or Tampa Bay. With the short first-round series, the defending World Series champions put ace CC Sabathia in position to start the opener.
A banged-up veteran team appears to have benefited from October off-days. The wild-card Yankees rebounded from a late-season fade in which they lost 17 of their final 26.
"Once you get to the postseason, it's like another season," said Curtis Granderson, who hit .455 in his first playoff series for New York. "You've just got to get across the finish line."
Robinson Cano got New York started when he tripled off Brian Duensing in the second inning and scored on Posada's single. Mark Teixeira added an RBI single in the third, and Thames made it 4-0 with his first career postseason homer, a two-run drive over the right-field scoreboard.
"I didn't get the job done when it counted," said Duensing, who allowed five runs and seven hits in 3 1/3 innings.
The AL Central champion Twins lost their 12th straight postseason game dating to 2004, one shy of the record set by the Boston Red Sox from 1986-95. Minnesota's last nine losses have been against the Yankees.
"We keep saying, `Well, next year we'll get these guys,"' Jason Kubel said. "That's happened a couple of times, and it hasn't worked out."
In addition to this year, the Yankees knocked out the Twins in the first round in 2003, 2004 and last season. New York outscored Minnesota 17-7 in this series and scorched the Twins 69-36 in the four playoff triumphs.
"We expect everyone to produce. We don't just rely on one or two guys," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We rely on a circular lineup."
With Minnesota badly missing Justin Morneau, sidelined since midseason because of a concussion, the heart of the Twins' order Saturday, AL MVP Joe Mauer and Kubel, combined to go 3 for 20 (.150) with no RBIs in the series.
"Right now we're in a little rut here. We can't seem to put it together," Gardenhire said. "No excuses. We just didn't get it done. We haven't got it done. And we have to do some more searching here in trying to figure out how to get it done, because we definitely, definitely can do it. We know we can. We know we're a good baseball team. You just have to put it together at the right time."
After leading the major leagues during the regular season with a .285 average with runners in scoring position, the Twins couldn't get a single clutch hit in the playoffs. With runners in scoring position, they went an almost impossibly bad 0 for 14 before Denard Span's too-little, too-late single in the eighth off Kerry Wood.
Orlando Hudson followed with an RBI single, and a Mauer walk loaded the bases. Boone Logan threw one pitch, retiring Kubel on an infield pop, and David Robertson got Delmon Young on an inning-ending flyout. Minnesota finished the series 2 for 18 (.222) RISP with one RBI.
In the first postseason game at new Yankee Stadium following the death of George Steinbrenner in July, the late owner's four children all looked on, hoping to see a repeat of the run that brought the pinstripes their record 27th World Series title last year, which christened the $1.5 billion ballpark.
Hughes gave up four hits, struck out six and walked one, leaving to chants of "Hughes!" from the new Yankee Stadium record crowd of 50,840 following his first scoreless start since May 12. He was perfect his first time through the order, then allowed Span's single to right leading off the fourth. Hughes didn't allow a runner past second.
Four relievers followed, with Rivera closing it out 1-2-3 in a non-save situation. Fans didn't stick around long, knowing they'll be back.
Come October, the killer instinct in the Yankees comes out.
"You have to have the mindset to put them away," Jeter said. "Everyone in here came in ready to win today. We're fortunate to do it, but we have to have that mindset every game."
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