After winning their first world championship in nine years the previous season, the New York Yankees failed to repeat as A.L. East champions in 2010, finishing one game behind the division-winning Tampa Bay Rays despite spending most of the year in first place. Nevertheless, the Yankees’ regular-season record of 95-67 enabled them to advance to the playoffs as the American League’s wild-card entry.
New York’s inability to capture the division title could be blamed primarily on the lack of depth in the team’s starting rotation. Staff ace C.C. Sabathia had an outstanding year, leading the league with a 21-7 record and placing among the leaders with a 3.18 ERA and 238 innings pitched. Phil Hughes also pitched well, compiling a record of 18-8. But, after elbow problems shelved Andy Pettitte for most of the season’s second half, the Yankees failed to find a suitable replacement for their number three starter. As a result, New York finished just seventh in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 4.06.
Fortunately for the Yankees, they had the league’s best offense. New York led the American League with 859 runs scored and a .350 team on-base percentage. The Yankees also finished third in the circuit with 201 home runs and a .436 team slugging percentage. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano were New York’s most productive hitters. Although Teixeria batted just .256, he knocked in 108 runs and led the club with 33 home runs and 113 runs scored. Despite playing with a sore hip much of the time, Alex Rodriguez hit 30 homers and placed among the league leaders with 125 runs batted in. Cano hit 29 home runs, knocked in 109 runs, scored 103 others, batted .319, and collected 200 hits and 41 doubles, en route to earning a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.
The Yankees subsequently met in the American League Division Series a Minnesota Twins team they swept in the previous year’s ALDS. The Twins captured their second consecutive A.L. Central title, and their sixth in nine years, by finishing six games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox, with a record of 94-68. Minnesota lacked New York’s powerful offense, scoring 78 fewer runs (859 to 781) and hitting 59 fewer home runs (201 to 142) over the course of the regular season. The Yankees also stole more bases (103 to 68), posted a higher team on-base percentage (.350 to .341), and compiled a higher team slugging percentage (.436 to .422). The Twins’ team batting average of .273 gave them their only statistical edge over New York on offense (the Yankees batted .267 as a team).
Joe Mauer and Delmon Young were Minnesota’s top two offensive threats. Mauer batted .327, compiled a .402 on-base percentage, drove in 75 runs, and scored 88 others. Young batted .298, hit 21 homers, and led the club with 112 runs batted in.
Although the Twins went through most of the season without a true staff ace, they managed to finish fifth in the American League with a team ERA of 3.95. Six members of the team posted double-digit victories, with Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano leading the staff with 17 and 14 wins, respectively. Liriano led all Minnesota starters with a 3.62 ERA, while Pavano placed second to him with a mark of 3.75. Even though Minnesota’s starting rotation lacked someone of C.C. Sabathia’s ilk, it appeared deeper than New York’s heading into their postseason matchup. As a result, the Twins believed they had an excellent chance of upsetting the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, especially since they held the home field advantage.
Minnesota broke on top early in Game One, scoring three times in the first three innings against C.C. Sabathia. Michael Cuddyer delivered the big blow against the Yankee starter, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the second inning. The Yankees, though, grabbed a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth inning, scoring four times against Francisco Liriano to knock him out of the box. Curtis Granderson followed RBI singles by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada with a two-run triple that drove Liriano from the game. After Sabathia issued a bases loaded walk that tied the score at 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees took the lead for good in the ensuing frame on a two-run homer by Mark Teixeira. Mariano Rivera came on in the bottom of the eighth inning to earn a four-out save that preserved New York’s 6-4 victory.
Carl Pavano and Andy Pettitte kept the score knotted at 2-2 through the first six innings of Game Two. The Yankees scored their two runs on a sacrifice fly by Alex Rodriguez and a solo home run by Lance Berkman, while the Twins scored on a Danny Valencia sacrifice fly and a homer by Orlando Hudson. The Yankees, though, pushed across two more runs against Pavano in the top of the seventh on an RBI double by Berkman and a run-scoring single by Derek Jeter. New York added an insurance run in the top of the ninth on an RBI single by Curtis Granderson. With the Yankee bullpen working two scoreless innings in relief of Pettitte, New York took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, with the next two contests scheduled to be played at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees earned their second straight ALDS sweep of the Twins and their second consecutive trip to the American League Championship Series with a convincing 6-1 victory in Game Three. Nick Swisher and Marcus Thames homered for New York, Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira delivered RBI singles, and Phil Hughes worked seven strong innings, allowing the Twins no runs on only four hits, before handing the ball off to the Yankee bullpen, which preserved the series-clinching victory.
Game 1, October 6
8:30 p.m. (EDT) at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota
|WP: CC Sabathia (1–0) LP: Jesse Crain (0–1) Sv: Mariano Rivera (1)
NYY: Mark Teixeira (1)
MIN: Michael Cuddyer (1)
Game 2, October 7
6:00 p.m. (EDT) at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota
|WP: Andy Pettitte (1–0) LP: Carl Pavano (0–1) Sv: Mariano Rivera (2)
NYY: Lance Berkman (1)
MIN: Orlando Hudson (1)
Game 3, October 9
8:30 p.m. (EDT) at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York
|WP: Phil Hughes (1–0) LP: Brian Duensing (0–1)
NYY: Marcus Thames (1), Nick Swisher (1)