NEW YORK — Come October, the New York Yankees speed past the Minnesota Twins with ease.
Phil Hughes pitched seven shutout innings, Marcus Thames and Nick Swisher homered and the Yankees beat the Twins 6-1 Saturday night to complete yet another three-game sweep of Minnesota and return to the AL championship series.
Robinson Cano tripled off Brian Duensing in the second inning and scored on Jorge Posada's single, Mark Teixeira added an RBI single in the third and Thames made it 4-0 in the fourth with his first career postseason homer, a two-run drive over the right-field scoreboard. Swisher added a solo homer in the seventh against Scott Baker.
The wild-card Yankees begin the ALCS on Friday at Texas or Tampa Bay. With the short first-round series, the defending World Series champions put ace CC Sabathia in position to start the opener.
The AL Central champion Twins lost their 12th straight postseason game dating to 2004, one shy of the record set by the Boston Red Sox from 1986-95.
In addition to this year, the Yankees knocked out the Twins in the first round in 2003, 2004 and last season. New York outscored the Twins 17-7 in this series and scorched them 69-36 in the four playoff triumphs,
With Minnesota badly missing Justin Morneau, sidelined since midseason because of a concussion, the heart of the Twins' order Saturday, AL MVP Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel, combined to go 3 for 20 (.150) with no RBIs in the series.
After leading the major leagues during the regular season with a .285 average with runners in scoring position, the Twins couldn't get a single clutch hit in the playoffs. With runners in scoring position, they went an almost impossibly bad 0 for 14 before Denard Span's too-little, too-late single in the eighth off Kerry Wood.
Orlando Hudson followed with an RBI single, and a Mauer walk loaded the bases. Boone Logan threw one pitch, retiring Kubel on an infield fly, and David Robertson retired Delmon Young on an inning-ending flyout. Minnesota finished the series 2 for 18 (.222) RISP with one RBI.
In the first postseason game at new Yankee Stadium following the death of George Steinbrenner in July, the late owner's four children all looked on, hoping to see a repeat of the run that brought the pinstripes their record 27th World Series title last year, which christened the $1.5 billion ballpark.
Hughes gave up four hits, struck out six and walked one, leaving to chants of "Hughes!" from the new Yankee Stadium record crowd of 50,840 following his first scoreless start since May 12. He was perfect his first time through the order, then allowed Span's single to right leading off the fourth. Hughes didn't allow a runner past second.
Four relievers followed, with Mariano Rivera closing it out 1-2-3 in a non-save situation. Posada came to the mound, and teammates trotted out for handshakes in a low-key celebration that seemed more like a regular-season victory than a postseason series clincher.
Cano got the Yankees started in the second with a drive just to the left of center that appeared to carry in the slight breeze and drop over Span and off the base of the wall. Posada then singled sharply through the left side.
With Duensing's pitches flattening across the plate like a Frisbee, Swisher doubled to left-center with one out in the third, and Teixeira's single made it 2-0. When Cano singled leading off the fourth and Thames followed with the home run that made it 4-0, the game seemed over. With the left-handed Duensing on the mound, Thames took over at designated hitter from Game 2 offensive star Lance Berkman.
Duensing allowed five runs and seven hits in 3 1-3 innings, unable to stop the Yankees' steamroller, and Brett Gardner hit a sacrifice fly off Matthew Guerrier.
Now the Twins have another offseason to ponder what they have to do to get past New York.