Even though tonight was the first postseason game Phil Hughes had ever started, it was not his first win: That came back in 2007, in the American League Division Series against Cleveland, the lone win for the Yankees that series. That was the game he came in for a "hurt" Roger Clemens and shut down the Indians, throwing three and two-thirds scoreless innings and giving up just two hits. (It was the last game Clemens would pitch, and after he retired, everything turned out perfect for him and nothing was ever wrong.) Hughes was excellent that night, but he was even better tonight in a 6-1 series-clinching victory, and the Yankees are headed to the American League Championship Series. Again.
Hughes made it look ridiculously simple all evening, throwing seven scoreless innings and giving up just four hits. (He had slightly hairy fifth and sixth innings, but no one noticed or was particularly concerned.) It was the third consecutive outstanding pitching performance for the Yankees, a three-game sweep that put to rest, at least for now, those lingering concerns about the rotation, and those idiots who thought it would be their downfall this postseason. Final stats for Yankees starters: 3-0, 2.25 ERA. If they do that the rest of the playoffs, the team won't lose another game. Of course, no one's seen A.J. Burnett yet.
The game was essentially over in the fourth inning, a wacky, endless one that featured a Marcus Thames home run, two stolen bases, and an errant throw that landed squarely in the crotch of Yankees first-base coach Mick Kelleher. If you were one to wonder whether first-base coaches wear protective cups, tonight, you know that no, no they don't. The Yankees' three runs that inning put them up 5-0, and the air, if there was any left coming into the game, exited the Twins right then. (They had a little death spasm in the eighth inning off Kerry Wood, who finally pitched like late-era Kerry Wood for the first time as a Yankee.)
For all the talk that the Yankees own the Twins, it's the postseason that owns the Twins: Tonight's loss was the Twins' twelfth straight in the playoffs. (Their last postseason win was actually over the Yankees, behind Johan Santana.)
Rod Ron Gardenhire's postseason record is now 6-21. The postseason turns the Twins into the 1962 Mets.
For those with the inability to go to Baseball Reference like we just did, or for those who just don't remember all that well, this is the Yankees' ninth ALCS in the last fifteen years, which is really just staggering. (Also, they're 7-1 in the ALCS during that time. That's crazy.) We don't know who the Yankees will play yet — the Rays came from behind against the Rangers to force a Game 4 — but we do know they'll start on the road, next Friday. That's a long time to sit around without any baseball to watch, but this is what happens when you are so thoroughly dominant in your first three playoff games. You get to kick your feet up and rest for a while. The Yankees made such short work of the Twins it feels weird to have it over already. C'mon! We just started having fun!