Starting pitchers shined for Yanks

Phillies celebrate after winning the NLDS on Monday, October 12, 2009 at Coors Field ( Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer )

MINNEAPOLIS - CC Sabathia was superb, A.J. Burnett followed suit, and Andy Pettitte added to his resume of postseason success.

While everyone was talking about Alex Rodriguez's breakthrough playoff performance, the New York Yankees got three strong starts in a row during their first-round sweep of Minnesota. And that sort of pitching is probably the key to building a run through October.

"We're good enough to get through this first round," Derek Jeter said. "But it's only going to get more difficult."

The three-game whitewash gave the Yankees a chance to line up their rotation for the AL championship series. They'll host the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 on Friday night, sending a well-rested Sabathia to the mound, with Burnett and Pettitte waiting behind him.

"People can say whatever they want about home runs and big hits. I mean, if you don't pitch and you don't defend, you're not going to win," said Rodriguez, who stopped a string of playoff failures with a huge series against the Twins.

So far, Yankees newcomers Sabathia and Burnett are paying off on their colossal contracts - 12 years and $243.5 million combined.

Oh, and Pettitte can still pitch, too.

All three starters went at least six innings against the Twins, each allowing only one earned run.

"The story of this series has been CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte. All three of them were fantastic," Rodriguez said.

"You throw on some good at-bats, you throw on some big clutch hits at the end, but only because of their great performance did we have an opportunity to do well."

The 37-year-old Pettitte won the clincher Sunday night, yielding three hits and striking out seven in 61/3 innings before manager Joe Girardi pulled him for Joba Chamberlain. Pettitte's 15th postseason win tied him with John Smoltz for the most in major league history.

"Andy was awesome," Girardi said.

Jeter, Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera go all the way back to 1996, when that group won the first of four World Series titles in five years. They'd like nothing more than to add one more.

"You have to pitch in the playoffs," Jeter said after Sunday's 4-1 victory at Minnesota. "You're not going to have too many 10-9 games."