NEW YORK — The Twins certainly had their challenges in Wednesday's American League division series opener. They were emotionally drained and physically exhausted from Tuesday's thrilling play-in game and a 4 a.m. arrival in New York, and they were significantly out-manned, having to send rookie Brian Duensing to the mound for his 10th major-league start and fielding a depleted lineup that included former Rays utility infielder Brendan Harris at DH.
But the Yankees may have it tougher. Returning to the playoffs after a one-year-that-felt-like-10 absence, facing the pressure of their past and the expectations of their own excess.
And they handled it all quite nicely in a 7-2 win.
"We did a lot of good things today," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "We couldn't have drawn it up any better for us."
The expectations that accompany the largest payroll and most wins, enhanced by the stage of the first postseason game in their new plush palace, and the manufactured maudlin motivation playing out in the tabloids of trying to win another title for aging owner George Steinbrenner (Daily News back page: "Win It For The Boss"), could have enveloped the entire team.
But New York's performance was crisp and efficient, erasing a 2-0 deficit on Jeter's third-inning homer then scoring five runs with two outs and getting good pitching from start (CC Sabathia) to finish (Mariano Rivera).
"A great way to start," leftfielder Johnny Damon said.
And two of their biggest stars found October redemption.
Sabathia, whose postseason resume included a 2-3 record and a 7.92 ERA with the Indians and Brewers, pitched like the ace the Yankees need him to be, working effectively into the seventh.
"Definitely when I signed, this is what you come here for," he said.
"I had a lot of fun out there."
It may have been more relief for third baseman Alex Rodriguez, whose October failures had become part of his legacy. He had one RBI in his previous 16 postseason games and stunning stretches of 0-for-29 with runners on base and 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position (a career postseason 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position and two outs) when he stood in in the fifth and delivered. His two-out single scored Jeter to extend the lead to 4-2 and set up DH Hideki Matsui's two-run homer. He added an RBI hit in the seventh.
"It felt good, it felt good to contribute," said Rodriguez, who showed it by clapping his hands and fist-bumping first-base coach Mick Kelleher. "Everyone keeps focusing on the personal, but it is about the team, and tonight was another great team effort.
"But I certainly felt good to get the hit out of the way."
Rodriguez acted like it didn't matter, but it did, and he acknowledged that he knew the numbers: "There's no question they haven't been real good."
The Twins didn't do too well, looking like, well, what you'd expect them to look like after the whirlwind they'd been through. They didn't pitch particularly well, they didn't hit when they needed to, they were uncharacteristically sloppy in the field (an error, two unturned double plays, a wild pitch) and they didn't even manage well — Ron Gardenhire summoning struggling Francisco Liriano, only to have him give up Matsui's two-run homer.
Still, Gardenhire said his team actually handled things well: "It's a big stage. We all know that. … We'll see what happens.''
AL division series
All games on TBS
Yankees 1, Twins 0
Wednesday: Yankees 7, Twins 2
Friday: at New York, 6:07 p.m.
Scheduled starters: Twins — Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.03); Yankees — A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04)
Sunday: at Minnesota, time TBD
Monday: at Minnesota, time TBD*
Wednesday: at New York, time TBD*
* If necessary