MINNEAPOLIS — Sure, the Yankees stumbled through September as Andy Pettitte tried to work his way back from a groin injury.
After landing in the AL wild-card spot, the defending World Series champs now look as though they have the Twins right where they want them.
Pettitte turned in a vintage performance with seven smooth innings and Lance Berkman had two big hits in a 5-2 victory over the Yankees' favorite postseason punching bag Thursday evening for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five division series.
So much for Minnesota's homefield advantage. The Yankees are hardly underdogs when it comes to October.
"Andy, when he gets in big situations, he knows how to handle it," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "He's not going to try to make the perfect pitch. He's going to stay aggressive and just try to do what he does. And I think a lot of that is just from experience."
Berkman hit a go-ahead homer 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.
Mariano Rivera got three outs for his second save of the series, extending his postseason record to 41. The road team has won all four games in the two current AL series.
The Twins? They haven't won a postseason game since 2004, matching the Phillies (1915-76) for the second-longest streak in history behind the Red Sox (1986-95) and their 13 in a row.
Berkman, yet another big-name veteran finding a place on a Yankees postseason roster, even on the downside of his career, 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.
"That's why I wanted to come over here, just to get a chance to play in these games," Berkman said.
The disputed call by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt led to the ejection of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire after Berkman's double, and Pavano soon exited before getting another out. He allowed 10 hits and four runs.
"We've got a big hill to climb. It's not going to be easy, but it can be done," Gardenhire said.
Pavano started strong, but the Yankees got to him in the seventh. Derek Jeter chased his old teammate off the mound with a half-swing RBI single to make it 4-2. Curtis Granderson scored New York's first run and came up with three more hits.
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 deftly escaping a couple of tricky spots.
"I just think the biggest part of it is being able to control your emotions," Pettitte said. "Nothing's going to faze you."