NEW YORK – The 103-win New York Yankees ran out identical, relentless lineups in consecutive games for the first time all year, and manager Aaron Boone believes he knows what’s next for the A-team Bombers.
“Throttle down,” he said.
Didi Gregorius hooked a slump-busting grand slam during a seven-run third inning and the Yankees pummeled the Minnesota Twins again, cruising to an 8-2 victory Saturday for a 2-0 lead in their AL Division Series.
Uber driver-turned-rookie big leaguer Randy Dobnak struggled in an unexpected start, and the Twins lost their record 15th consecutive postseason game, including 12 straight against the Yankees. The latter is the longest postseason skid for one club against another in major league history, topping Boston’s dominance over the Angels from 1986-2008. Minnesota hasn’t won a playoff game since Johan Santana bested the Yankees in their 2004 Division Series opener – exactly 15 years earlier.
“Our guys know that we can turn it around,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Coaches and players on both sides have downplayed that history, most of which predates current rosters. It’s all too familiar for fans in Minnesota, where the teams will play Monday’s Game 3 in the best-of-five series.
“We’ll have all kinds of fire power ready to go Monday,” Boone said.
Gregorius’ shot blew Game 2 wide open while New York batted around. The switch-hitter staggered after connecting for the first time since Sept. 10, looping his bat from one hand to another and mashing on bubble gum while he watched the ball fly. Gregorius, set to become a free agent after the season, batted .194 during September and was 0 for 3 in Game 1.
“I expect this from Didi,” Boone said. “Just when you think you’ve got him down, he’s got a big swing in him.”
Boone had predicted that if Gregorius could just find a hole, big hits might follow. Sure enough, Gregorius squibbed an infield single in his first at-bat before lifting his homer into the second deck in right field.
Gregorius said he was processing the at-bat during his unusual reaction to the slam. Relief pitcher Tyler Duffey struck out Gregorius on a high fastball Friday, a similar pitch to the one Gregorius crushed.
“I was ready for it this time,” he said.
Finally featuring nearly all its stars after placing 30 players on the injured list during the regular season, New York has grinded away at Twins pitching. The Yankees worked eight walks for the second straight game, and Aaron Judge led the way with two hits and two free passes.
“They were really good, especially on breaking balls,” Duffey said. “If you weren’t close to the plate, it didn’t even seem like they wanted to even think about swinging.”
Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka pitched one-run ball for five innings for the win, striking out seven and handing off to New York’s fearsome bullpen after 83 pitches. Tanaka’s career postseason ERA climbed to 1.54, still second lowest by a New York starter with a minimum of four starts behind Monte Pearson’s 1.01.
“I actually don’t get too caught up on being good in the postseason and all that,” Tanaka said through a translator. “Come to think about it, I think it’s still a small sample. My thing is just go out there and be the best that you can be, compete.”
Dobnak faltered in just his 10th big league appearance, taking the loss a week after his wedding in Maryland. The undrafted right-hander allowed Edwin Encarnacion’s RBI single in the first inning, stranded two in the second and loaded the bases with no outs in the third before being pulled.
A night after giving up Gleyber Torres’ tiebreaking double, Duffey scuffled again. The right-hander followed Dobnak and allowed a sacrifice fly to Giancarlo Stanton, an RBI hit to Torres and plunked Gary Sanchez before Gregorius’ drive.
“We’re going to go to Duffey in those types of spots consistently,” Baldelli said.
New York scored four runs off relievers a night after piling up seven in a 10-4 victory. The Yankees are 15-2 against the Twins in the playoffs, and these two games were the most lopsided during Minnesota’s losing streak. The teams played for 3 hours, 34 minutes, a night after dragging on for 4:15.
Yankee Stadium rocked early after Friday’s blowout. Fans in left field shouted “Uber!” at Dobnak while he warmed up, and Judge encouraged more noise from the bleachers before first pitch.
Gregorius took a curtain call while fans chanted his name after the slam, the 12th in New York’s postseason history. The Bronx Bombers connected for only one homer Saturday after driving 306 of them during the regular season, one behind the Bomba Squad Twins for the major league record.
Tanaka left with a seven-run lead, but Boone ran out top middlemen Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino to guide the game into the late innings. Tyler Lyons and Jonathan Loaisiga closed up with an inning each. Yankees pitchers gave up six hits, one walk and struck out 13, leaving the Twins with a .197 batting average in the two games.
“We won a hundred games a lot of different ways,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “And it seems like we’re not doing that right now.”
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