DJ LeMahieu homered and drove in four runs, Gleyber Torres broke a tie with a two-run double and the Yankees extended their October mastery of Minnesota with a 10-4 victory Friday night in the AL Division Series opener.
Aaron Judge made two diving catches in right field as the AL East champions handed Minnesota its major league-record 14th consecutive playoff defeat — 11 of them to the Yankees since 2004. The second grab thwarted a potential rally and left grateful reliever Zack Britton with both hands on his head to end the top of the seventh, when the Twins were still within striking distance.
“Huge,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s so good out there.”
Brett Gardner also went deep for the Bronx Bombers in a playoff matchup between teams that finished neck-and-neck this season for the most home runs in baseball history. Minnesota’s Bomba Squad socked 307, one more than New York as both clubs blew away the previous mark of 267 set by the Yankees last year.
But in the 14th postseason meeting of 100-win teams, it was more of the same Yankees dominance against the Twins — even though many of Minnesota’s players and coaches weren’t around for most of it.
Minnesota, the AL Central champion for the first time in nine years, was hurt by eight walks and hasn’t won a playoff game since Johan Santana beat Hall of Famer Mike Mussina 2-0 in the 2004 Division Series opener at Yankee Stadium. Boston also lost 13 straight postseason games, from 1986-95.
Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sanó homered for Minnesota.
“We had some good swings, we had our moments,” manager Rocco Baldelli said after his first playoff game as bench boss. “Just by chance, there was no one on base when we popped a few balls over the fence.”
Rookie reliever Zack Littell, a former Yankees farmhand who was traded to the Twins, took the loss after a brief and messy outing. With the score tied in the fifth, he walked Judge, threw a wild pitch and plunked Gardner.
Giancarlo Stanton drew the second of his three critical walks to load the bases, bringing up the 22-year-old Torres. He fought back from 0-2 to a full count against Tyler Duffey and pulled a sharp one-hopper that deflected off the glove of a diving Sanó behind third base, giving New York a 5-3 lead.
“Big time at-bat against a guy who was really tough on righties,” Boone said. “That hit I think really got us rolling.
Sanó sliced a solo homer in the sixth off winner Tommy Kahnle, who retired cleanup batter Eddie Rosario with two on to end the fifth.
LeMahieu launched his first postseason home run in the sixth, and Gardner also hit a solo drive off rookie Cody Stashak, who was born in nearby New Jersey and went to college at St. John’s in New York City.
LeMahieu, who dropped an easy popup at first base early in the game, made it 10-4 in the seventh when the leadoff man laced a three-run double off Kyle Gibson for his third hit. The three-time All-Star and 2016 NL batting champ clapped at second base as fans in the sellout crowd of 49,233 chanted “MVP! MVP!” for LeMahieu, who left Colorado to sign a $24 million, two-year contract with the Yankees as a free agent last offseason.
“That was like my worst nightmare, dropping a popup like that,” LeMahieu said. “Just turn the page real quick and get ready for the next opportunity.”
New York was down 2-0 before scoring three runs in the third against starter José Berríos. Edwin Encarnación knocked in one with his second double of the night, and two more scored when the Twins were unable to turn a potential inning-ending double play on Torres with the bases loaded.
With the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Stanton bearing down on him with a hard, clean slide directly into the bag, rookie second baseman Luis Arráez relayed low and wide to first. C.J. Cron reached for the throw and could have caught it, but the ball got past him and he was charged with an error that allowed two runs to score.
Polanco hit a tying single on the ninth pitch of his at-bat with two outs in the fifth to chase Yankees starter James Paxton from his postseason debut.
It took all of two batters and nine pitches for someone to hit a home run, when Polanco took Paxton deep. Cruz cleared the short right field porch with his 17th postseason homer in the third to make it 2-0.
Twins: Arráez returned to the lineup after spraining his right ankle last weekend. The 22-year-old batted .334 with an .838 OPS in 92 games, bumping Jonathan Schoop and his 23 homers to the bench. Arráez had a tough night on defense and at the plate, grounding into an inning-ending double play with two on in the second and stranding the potential tying run in scoring position in the sixth. He doubled and scored in the fifth. … CF Max Kepler batted sixth. He started just two of the previous 19 games because of a strained left shoulder.
Yankees: Back from a strained left oblique, Encarnación batted cleanup and lined a double on the first competitive pitch he saw since Sept. 12.
Twins: In an unexpected move, Baldelli announced after the game that rookie RHP Randy Dobnak (2-1, 1.59 ERA) will start Game 2, with RHP Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51) tabbed for Game 3. Dobnak made his major league debut in August and was sensational in September. It will be his first appearance since getting married last Saturday. The couple set the date more than two years ago, never considering Dobnak might still be playing through a big league season.
Yankees: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (11-9, 4.45 ERA) makes his sixth postseason start Saturday, looking to improve a 3-2 record and impressive 1.50 ERA. He is 5-0 with a 2.27 ERA in five career outings against Minnesota. Tanaka struggled with his signature pitch earlier this year but believes he’s got the grip again. “I feel like towards the end of the season, I was able to really find that good splitter and get that back,” he said through a translator. “I think I’m pretty confident in the splitter that I have right now.”