The Yankees beat the Twins 5-1 in Game 3 of the American League Division Series to complete a sweep. But before the offense tacked on some late insurance runs, this was a duel of pitching and defense in which the Yankees showed their ability to hang tough in a tight game in October.
"I thought they played such a clean game. They made so many big plays in big spots because I really thought the Twins brought it tonight," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "They made it difficult. They had traffic it seemed like all night. Our guys just kept making big pitches when they needed to and big defensive plays."
The Yankees' pitchers had times when they were not crisp, but they got outs when they mattered most. Every time the Twins threatened to score, they came away empty-handed, thanks to a combination of stellar defense and a relief staff that knows how to seal a low-scoring win. Only an eighth-inning homer by Eddie Rosario got the Twins on the scoreboard.
Luis Severino's start was not as clean as his four scoreless innings would indicate, but he stepped up when it mattered, masterfully escaping a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the second inning by limiting slugger Miguel Sano to an infield popup and striking out Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave to end the threat.
"I think that situation right there set the tone for the rest of the game. I think that was the chance for the Twins to score," Severino said. "I'm happy that I could throw good pitches enough to get out of that inning."
Chad Green, arguably New York's best pitcher in the second half of the season, entered in the fifth inning to protect a three-run lead with two men on and two outs and retired the dangerous Rosario. Green was awarded the win after pitching a tough 1⅓ innings supported by great defensive play by outfielder Aaron Judge.
"I thought we played really good defense today," Green said. "Sevy getting out of huge jams early in the game was big for us, and that set the tone for the whole game, and every pitcher fed off what he was doing out there. The guys stepped up at the right time and made plays when they had to, and that's really what this game came down to."
Torres, Yankees filled with confidence heading into ALCS
Gleyber Torres talks to Buster Olney after the Yankees finish off the Twins, breaking down the team's performance in Game 3 of the ALDS.
Judge, unanimously praised by his teammates for his defense, made several highlight-reel catches to keep the game close until the Yankees managed to build a more comfortable lead in the ninth inning, scoring two runs off reliever Sergio Romo.
"We played three really complete games, offensively and defensively, but this felt like one of the best defensive games we have had," New York first baseman DJ LeMahieu said. "It seemed like Minnesota hit the ball hard all night, and especially at the right times, and we just made so many great plays. Judge had a couple of great plays. He is a Gold Glove right fielder, one of the best I have seen out there. His bat gets all the attention, for obvious reasons, but he is a complete player."
However, Judge's focus during the Yankees' subdued clubhouse celebration was not personal accolades or whether his defense is an underappreciated aspect of his game.
"I really don't know if I'm overrated or underrated. It really doesn't matter to me if I make the play," Judge said. "A lot of people label us as just a home-run-hitting team, but we are not. We play great defense, and our pitching staff is exceptional -- goes out there and executes their pitches."
Gleyber Torres, who made a case for series MVP with a second-inning home run and two doubles backed up by big-game defense, credited the field work that the team has done this season.
"We know we can hit, but we also know that defense also wins games. We are a team that cares a lot about our defense. We worked hard on it all season," Torres said. "We certainly hit very well in this series, but I think that defensively we played incredible ball. Some of the plays that Didi [Gregorius] made, that Judge made, they were incredible. Makes us feel very proud because this is the time to raise our level of play."
Yankees utility man Tyler Wade agreed.
"It's a cliché saying, but defense wins championships, and this game was a product of all the early work we put in the outfield and the infield, the attention to detail and the pride that we have," he said. "Those kinds of plays we made today get momentum going, and hats off to Judge, Didi, Gleyber, DJ. Their great performance on the field was contagious."
The Yankees outscored the Twins 23-7 in their ALDS sweep, but reliever Tommy Kahnle believes they should be recognized for what they have accomplished on both sides of the ball in their 103-win season that included their first AL East title since 2012.
"A lot of people, they look on the outside and look at us as a power staff with power hitting, but at times we have shown that we have one of the best defenses in the league. We have the players to do it," Kahnle said. "Tonight really showed that when the stage is set, our guys are going to shine.
"When you have plays like that behind you and those players behind you, it's almost like it's a treat. Just another perk that we get from being on this team."