- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS | There may have been no better story in this postseason than the Minnesota Twins, the can-do bunch that had scrapped its way into the playoffs four times already in this decade and did so again this season with a stirring September comeback and an epic one-game playoff victory.

The Twins did a lot to prolong the life of the enigmatic Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, but after the American League Division Series this postseason no longer belongs to the Twins.

Despite whatever steam and good will the Twins could muster in Sunday’s Game 3 in what turned out to be their final game before moving across town to Target Field, the New York Yankees steadily prevailed. They spotted the Twins a lead for the third time in this series and with two swings took it back for good, sweeping Minnesota with a 4-1 win and shutting down a season and a stadium.

The Yankees advanced to their first American League Championship Series since 2004, where they will host the Los Angeles Angels beginning Friday.

“When you put a team together, you talk about pitching, defense and timely hitting,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We had all of that during this series.”

On an otherwise stellar night for Twins starter (and Yankees bust) Carl Pavano, New York got all the offense it would need with a pair of solo homers off the right-hander in the seventh inning, the shots from Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada applying a quick shot of white-out to the Twins’ 1-0 lead and subduing the sea of white Homer Hankies fluttering in the Metrodome.

“To get down and feel like, ‘Man, we might lose this game 1-0,’ it’s huge to fire right back,” winning pitcher Andy Pettitte said.

And while they held their lead ultimately because of the latest Minnesota baserunning mistake in a series full of them, it was 37-year-old left-hander Pettitte, turning in a performance worthy of his clutch October reputation, who got them that far.

He allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings, striking out seven batters and throwing just 81 pitches in that time, realizing early he could get the Twins chasing his cut fastball and off-speed pitches.

Pavano kept up against a stronger lineup. He threw first-pitch strikes and sank his fastball effectively, but the two fastballs he missed with hurt him the most.

With one out in the seventh, Pavano threw a 3-2 fastball on the outer half of the plate and high in the strike zone. With a smooth, easy swing, Rodriguez launched the ball over the baggie in right field, tying the game at 1-1 and again punishing the Twins for failing to add to their lead.

That still wasn’t enough to prompt Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to get relievers up in the bullpen, and after breaking the team record for strikeouts in a playoff game (with nine) by striking out Hideki Matsui, Pavano threw a pitch that put the Twins’ fate firmly in the Yankees’ control.

He tried to sink a 1-0 fastball but left it too high, and Posada pulled it to left. Twins outfielder Delmon Young jumped at the wall, but the ball landed a row back in the stands. The solo shot gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

That, of course, was partially because of a costly baserunning gaffe.

Nick Punto, one of the Twins’ heroes during their run, lashed a leadoff double to start the eighth. But when Denard Span singled with a vintage Metrodome chopper up the middle, Punto charged hard around third but stumbled when he finally saw a late stop sign from third-base coach Scott Ullger.

Derek Jeter threw home, and Posada had plenty of time to fire back to third so Rodriguez could tag out Punto.

“It was one of those things where the crowd got me a little bit,” Punto said, his eyes moist with tears. “Fifty-five thousand people screaming, I thought the ball might have got through. It’s a huge play in that game. I can’t let that happen.”

The Twins’ last, best chance in the eighth came with two outs, when the Yankees brought in closer Mariano Rivera to face likely AL MVP Joe Mauer. All Mauer could manage was a broken-bat dribbler to first.

Then came a ninth inning with four Twins pitchers, three walks, two Yankees runs and one arrest - after a fan sprinted onto the field, eluded a security guard and jumped onto the center-field fence before guards pulled him back.

It was, after all, the last inning of baseball at the Metrodome because the Twins’ chance had been slammed shut.

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