NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Yankees advanced to the American League Championship Series by beating the Minnesota Twins 6-1 on Saturday to complete a three-game sweep of their best-of-five Division Series.
New York became the first team to advance in Major League Baseball’s playoffs behind the strong pitching of Phil Hughes and a 12-hit attack keyed by a two-run homer from designated hitter Marcus Thames and a solo blast by Nick Swisher.
The 24-year-old Hughes, who was 18-8 this season and making his first playoff start, retired the first nine batters he faced and threw seven shutout innings allowing just four hits.
It was the 12th successive defeat in the post-season for the AL Central champion Twins going back to 2004, and the ninth playoff loss in a row to the Yankees, who also swept Minnesota last year on their way to winning the World Series.
The Yankees will meet either the Tampa Bay Rays or Texas Rangers, who lead that series 2-1, in a best-of-seven showdown to determine the American League representative in the World Series.
The Yankees marked the victory with a reserved handshake and hug lineup on the field, but once they got to their clubhouse, champagne spray filled the air as New York took another step toward a possible 28th Fall Classic crown.
“It’s a great feeling of excitement,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “It’s not easy. It’s hard work and I will celebrate.”
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire was downcast.
“The effort was good. These guys got after it, they cared. I told them I’m very proud. It just didn’t work out,” he said. “We were playing against a very good baseball team.
“Right now we’re in a little rut. We can’t seem to put it together once we get into the playoffs.”
The Twins scored first in the opening two losses to New York, but the Yankees jumped out fast in Game Three.
Robinson Cano belted a triple to the wall in dead center leading off the second inning against soft-throwing left-hander Brian Duensing and scored on a single to left by Jorge Posada.
A two-out double to left-center by Nick Swisher led to another run in the third as Mark Teixeira singled him in.
Thames smacked an outside pitch over the fence in right field to score Cano ahead of him in the fourth inning as New York scored three runs to build a 5-0 lead.
Hughes pitched out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings before exiting in the seventh.
“From pitch one I felt like I had good stuff,” said Hughes, who struck out six and walked only one. “We really wanted to close it out here and win this game.”
His replacement, Kerry Wood, gave the Twins some hope.
Wood yielded a ringing double to rookie Danny Valencia, singles to Denard Span and Orlando Hudson and walked Joe Mauer to bring one run in and load the bases with one out.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi removed Wood in favor of left-hander Boone Logan, who got lefty hitter Jason Kubel to pop out to third. Right-hander David Robertson came in and retired Delmon Young on a fly to center to end the threat before closer Mariano Rivera registered the last three outs.
Editing by Frank Pingue and Greg Stutchbury