MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Andy Pettitte missed two months with a groin injury this summer and was still trying to find his strength and his form in late September.
Lance Berkman hit only one homer for the New York Yankees after coming over in a deadline-day trade during the worst season of his powerful career.
This is October, though, when the Yankees usually bring out their best.
Pettitte and Berkman, friends from their time together in Houston, helped push the defending World Series champs within a game of eliminating the frustrated Minnesota Twins.
Pettitte turned in a vintage performance with seven smooth innings and Berkman had two big hits in the Yankees’ 5-2 victory over their favorite postseason punching bag on Thursday night, taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five division series.
“Three words for you: Texas two-step,” Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said. “No doubt. Andy Pettite and Lance Berkman were huge reasons for our success. Pettite has been doing it his entire career. Big Lance also stepped up for us today. We all knew it was going to happen.”
Berkman hit a go-ahead home run in the fifth and a tiebreaking double in the seventh against Carl Pavano, sending the Twins to their 11th straight postseason loss. Eight of those have come against the Yankees, who trailed in each of those games.
From the point of the Twins’ biggest lead in those games, the Yankees have outscored them 42-8. Since they first started meeting in the division round in 2003, the Yankees are 11-2 against the Twins.
And they headed back home for Game 3 on Saturday night with a commanding lead. Of the 16 teams before this year to lose the first two games of the division series at home, the only one to sweep the next three and advance was the 2001 Yankees against Oakland, according to STATS LLC.
“Obviously, they’ve had our number,” first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. “We have to win three in a row now. There’s nothing else you can say about it.”
The Twins haven’t won a postseason game since 2004, matching the Philadelphia Phillies (1915-1976) for the second-longest streak in history behind the Boston Red Sox (1986-1995) and their 13 in a row.
The road team has won all four games in the two AL playoff series this week, with the Rangers taking a 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay home to Texas. Maybe the trip will be good for the Twins. They’ve now sent their fans home disappointed from a postseason game 10 straight times. Their last win was Game 1 of the AL championship series in 2002.
Mariano Rivera got three outs for his second save of the series, extending his postseason record to 41. But it was Pettitte, with some big help from Berkman, who put the Yankees in position to advance.
Pettitte retired 12 in a row until Orlando Hudson’s homer tied it at 2 in the sixth. He needed only 88 pitches to finish seven innings, with five hits and two runs allowed. He walked one and struck out four, deftly escaping a couple of tricky spots.
“I just think the biggest part of it is being able to control your emotions,” Pettitte said, pointing to his “tunnel vision” in critical situations. “Nothing’s going to faze you. Nothing’s going to make you nervous.”
The old man, as Hudson respectfully referred to him the night before, broke a bunch of bats and was able to escape a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the second by allowing Danny Valencia’s only sacrifice fly.
Pettitte spoke the day before about how, while he doesn’t change his approach, these October appearances simply feel different to him. As one of the Yankees’ famed Core Four, he sure would know. This was his 41st career postseason start and 19th win — both major league records.
Berkman, who played for the Astros with his fellow native Texan Pettitte for three seasons, isn’t part of that core. He’s just trying to fit in, a 34-year-old guy with 327 career home runs now relegated to part-time designated hitter duty.
“You don’t really feel like you’re a part of the team until you do something to help the team,” Berkman said.
He made it 2-1 with his drive into the left-center bullpen in the fifth. His double in the seventh — one pitch after it appeared Pavano sneaked strike three past him — drove in Jorge Posada and gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
The disputed ball call by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt led to the ejection of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire following Berkman’s double, and Pavano soon exited before getting an out in the inning.
“The last thing I worry about is an umpire supposedly misses a pitch or not,” Pavano said. “My job is to go out there and make quality pitches and execute pitches, and I didn’t do that.”