Depleted by injuries to their biggest stars, the New York Yankees were sagging in the relentless AL East race when they arrived in Minnesota.
Four games against their longtime punching bag later, the Yankees have some momentum back.
Vernon Wells drove in three runs and the Yankees pounded rookie Kyle Gibson and the Twins 9-5 on Thursday to finish the sweep, their first series victory in almost four weeks.
”It’s a new month, and hopefully this is a time that we’re going to turn this around,” Ichiro Suzuki said through his interpreter after tallying three hits, including a two-run triple.
Travis Hafner had three hits and scored twice, and Zoilo Almonte and Alberto Gonzalez also drove in runs for the Yankees, who scored 29 runs over the four games. They didn’t even need their usual super-sized contribution from Robinson Cano, whose streak of six straight multihit games ended without reaching base. He still batted .500 on this seven-game road trip with 11 RBIs.
”Everyone else seemed to pick it up around him today,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Justin Morneau homered twice for the Twins, one-third of his season total. But Gibson (1-1) gave up eight runs on 11 hits, a walk and a hit batter in 5 1-3 innings with two strikeouts in his second start.
David Phelps (6-5) surrendered Morneau’s first homer and three more runs in the seventh, when he left with one out. RBI singles by Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier and a sacrifice fly by Joe Mauer helped the Twins catch up in that inning, and Morneau went deep again in the eighth. That wasn’t enough. Phelps gave up eight hits and four runs, but he struck out five without a walk.
”It’s huge. We’re going home for a long stretch, and we’re taking some momentum with us. It would’ve been real easy to take what happened in Baltimore and carry it over here,” Phelps said.
Phelps had a decent June until his final start of the month, when the Orioles beat him up for a season-most nine runs in 2 1-3 innings last Saturday. Swept in that series, the banged-up Yankees brought a five-game losing streak to Target Field, where their woes were quickly forgotten.
”Those are frustrating starts for pitchers, and you don’t want to put a couple in a row where you don’t feel good about yourself,” Girardi said.
The Yankees stayed six games behind first-place Boston in the division. Since the start of 2002, including the postseason, they’re 71-23 against Minnesota.
”They’ve always had great players over there since I became manager here,” the Twins’ Ron Gardenhire said. ”Great players do good things.”
Gibson’s debut last weekend matched the anticipation of the 2009 first-round draft pick built up in the fan base, a winning performance with six sharp innings and two runs allowed. This time, he was behind 3-0 after just his 17th pitch. The first five batters produced two singles, two doubles and a soaring sacrifice fly by Cano that Oswaldo Arcia caught at the wall in left field. The next batter, Wells, hit a two-run single.
The game, though, was essentially decided in the third inning.
Gibson hit Hafner with a pitch and let him move up on a wild pitch. Then Wells sneaked a low-arc pop-up in the space between Arcia and the infield, just enough for Hafner to score, Arcia to miss a sliding catch by a few inches and Wells to get a double. Luis Cruz followed with an RBI single, his first hit for the Yankees, to stretch the lead to 5-0.
Then in the bottom of the inning, the Twins found more bad breaks indicative of a slumping team.
After consecutive singles to start for the Twins, Brian Dozier’s bunt rolled perfectly down the third-base line where no play was possible. But it strayed a bit too far, across the chalk, and Dozier was summoned back to the box. Then he grounded into a double play, thanks to a slick running pickup and same-motion, sidearm toss by the shortstop Cruz to Cano at second base to start the process.
Mauer struck out looking next on a pitch the catcher believed was low, in disagreement with home plate umpire Ed Hickox. Mauer was called out on strikes in his next at-bat, too, and he had more words for Hickox on his way back to the dugout.
The Twins have lost 10 of their last 13 games.
NOTES: Noted Yankees birthdays on July 4: late owner George Steinbrenner and radio announcer John Sterling. … The Twins designated RHP PJ Walters for assignment after the game to make room for the return of RHP Mike Pelfrey to the rotation on Saturday. … The Yankees start a 10-game homestand on Friday, beginning with Baltimore. RHP Ivan Nova (2-2, 4.63 ERA), in place of Hiroki Kuroda, will take the mound. RHP Miguel Gonzalez (6-3, 3.77 ERA) will pitch for the Orioles. … The Twins begin a 10-game road trip on Friday, continuing their grind through the AL East. RHP Kevin Correia (6-5, 4.08 ERA) will start in Toronto, with LHP Mark Buehrle (4-5, 4.81 ERA) taking the mound for the Blue Jays.