Derek Jeter's Heads-Up Play Has New York Yankees Heading to the ALCS

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Derek Jeter's Heads-Up Play Has New York Yankees Heading to the ALCS

I watch a lot of sports and I'm a pretty laid-back person, so it takes a rather unique play for me to respond with an audible "Wow!"

But that's exactly what happened in the bottom of the eighth inning during the Yankees' American League Division Series clinching win over the Twins on Sunday night.

With no one out and Nick Punto on second with a lead-off double off Phil Hughes in a 2-1 game, Denard Span bounced a ball over second base that was fielded by Derek Jeter.

Realizing he had no chance to retire the speedy Span at first, the captain alertly turned his attention to Punto, who for some reason was halfway around third.

In no rush, the shortstop calmly tossed the ball home to Jorge Posada, who fired the ball over to Alex Rodriguez at third to retire Punto, trying to elude the tag.

In Game 1, Jeter did it with his bat- launching a two-run homer to tie the game in the third inning- and in Game 3, he did it with his arm, as he kept the Twins from knotting the game, and the Yanks went onto win, 4-1, to clinch their first postseason series in five years.

After everything No. 2 has done since 1996, it's incredible that he keeps coming up with new ways to make us say "Wow!"

Let's take a look at the grades from the final game at the Metrodome.

Joe Girardi, Manager: (B-) If the Twins had scored a run in the bottom of the seventh and gone on to win this game, Girardi's yanking of Andy Pettitte would've gone down as the worst managerial move by a Yanks skipper since Joe Torre drew in the infield in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

The southpaw retired the first 12 batters he faced and was still pitching well when Girardi took him out for Joba Chamberlain with one out in the seventh. Pettitte allowed just one run on three hits and a walk, while striking out seven over 6 1/3 innings. And he only threw 81 pitches!

The guys due up next for Minnesota were Delmon Young and Brendan Harris, who were both 0-for-2 against the left-hander in this game, despite having very good numbers against him in their careers entering the contest (9-for-14 and 8-for-17, respectively).

After Joba gave up a double to Young, he was able to escape the inning without surrendering a run, but the Yanks were forced to sweat out the final eight outs of the game, when it looked like Pettitte could've gone the distance, or at least handed the ball to Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

Derek Jeter, SS: (B+) In addition to his defensive heroics, the captain doubled in four at-bats and finished the ALDS hitting .400 with a .538 on base percentage.

Johnny Damon, LF: (F) This courtesy of Ed Price of FanHouse.com: Damon was the first Yankee with four strikeouts in a nine-inning postseason game since Mel Stottlemyre in Game 2 of the 1964 World Series. The last position player to do it was Mickey Mantle in Game 3 of the 1953 Fall Classic.

The outfielder hit just .083 in the series following a poor September, and Girardi may need to consider replacing him with Brett Gardner for a game or two in the ALCS, because Damon hit just 4-for-33 (.121) with eight K's against the Angels this year.

Mark Teixeira, 1B: (C-) Teixeira went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. He hit just .167 against the Twins and will need to step it up vs. the Angels.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B: (A+) A-Rod secured his spot as this series' most valuable player with a solo homer in the seventh that finally got the Bombers on the board against Carl Pavano, who pitched an outstanding game (7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K).

Rodriguez hit .455 with two huge home runs in the ALDS. I guess you feel kind of silly now if you were one of those Yankees fans who actually wanted to trade A-Rod after his postseason struggles a couple years back.

Hideki Matsui, DH: (A-) Godzilla was 1-for-3 with a walk, but he struck out twice.

Jorge Posada, C: (A+) Posada got some of his frustration out after being benched on Friday by going 2-for-4 with the go-ahead home run in the seventh and an RBI single to drive home a big insurance run in the ninth. 

He also made that great throw to gun down Punto in the eighth. I'd still sit him for A.J. Burnett's Game 2 start on Saturday.

Robinson Cano, 2B: (C) Cano started 0-for-3 and made what should've been scored an error on a line drive off the bat of Jason Kubel in the fifth, before blooping a single in the ninth to drive in the Yanks' fourth run.

Nick Swisher, RF: (D-) Swisher went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and hit only .083 with no walks in the ALDS, but he bailed out Cano on that play in the fifth when he threw to second for the force.

Melky Cabrera, CF-LF: (C-) Cabrera went 1-for-4 with two Ks.

Brett Gardner, CF: (INC) Gardner replaced Damon for defensive purposes in the ninth. He may replace Damon for offensive purposes in the ALCS.

Jerry Hairston, Jr., PR-DH: (INC) Hairston finally made it into a postseason game for the first time in his 11-year career when he pinch ran for Matsui.

Andy Pettitte, SP: (A) Pettitte pitched great and should've been allowed to stay in the game longer.  His next start should be Oct. 19 in Anaheim.

Joba Chamberlain, RP: (B) Joba retired two of the three batters he faced in the seventh without giving up a run. The big question this week will be whether he's slated to start Game 4 of the ALCS on Oct. 20.  I say he should be.

Phil Hughes, RP: (B-) Hughes gave up two hits while getting two outs in the eighth. He was bailed out by Jeter and Rivera and the Yankees will look for him to pitch better in the next round.

Mariano Rivera, RP: (A) Mo got lucky on his first pitch to Joe Mauer, when his fastball up and out over the plate was just fouled back by the batting champion. His second pitch was much better, sawing off the lefty on a ground ball to first that ended the inning.

Yankees Overall Grade: (B+) The Pinstripe's managed just five hits until the ninth, but it was enough as Pettitte's pitching and Jeter's defense held the Twins at bay.  Now they get set for a huge best-of-seven showdown against the Angels, who have ousted them from the playoffs twice since 2002.

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