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ALDS Game 3: Yankees @ Twins Sweep

It’s over in Minnesota. The grounds crew is digging up home plate at the Metrodome to carry it over to Target Field, which will be the Twins’ new home come spring. But tonight it was Yankee cleats that crossed it most often.

In the end the only real surprise in the Yankees/Twins division series was that there were so few surprises. The biggest of them all was that the Twins, who are normally known for being such sound, fundamental baseball players, committed some baserunning gaffes. Tonight’s pivotal play involved Nick Punto.

Punto has been a revelation this series. He batted .444 and was a bulldog at taking pitches and working walks. But in this pitchers’ duel, in which Andy Pettitte and Carl Pavano traded zeroes for five full innings, every little thing could be big. In the sixth the Twins scored first, as they did in all three games in the series. This time it was the Twins who benefited from a blatantly bad umpiring call, when Orlando Cabrera stared at strike three right down Broadway, shown both on the WTBS Pitchtrax and MLB.com’s Gameday. But instead of watching the pitch, home plate umpire Mark Wegner was watching Denard Span run to second base. Jorge Posada held the pitch as long as he could without edging into outright protest, then lobbed it back to Pettitte, disgusted. A strikeout would have ended the inning. Instead Cabrera walked on the next pitch, and then Joe Mauer brought Span in on a single, before Michael Cuddyer struck out to end the inning.

But as in the previous two games in the series, as soon as the Twins scored, the Yankees answered. This time two Yankees in particular answered, as Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada both hit solo shots off Pavano in the seventh to make it 2-1 New York. In the end, Pavano pitched well, giving up only five hits (including the two homers), walking none and striking out nine in 7 innings. Pettitte went 6.1, striking out seven, giving up three hits and walking one. Pavano threw 95 pitches, 64 for strikes, while Pettitte threw 81 pitches, 58 for strikes.

Going into the eighth down a run, Punto led off the inning with a double in the left-center gap. If the Twins played small ball, their chance of tying the score with a runner in scoring position and no one out was very good. But Punto got greedy. When Denard Span hit a bounced up the middle, Punto rounded third as if he might score, despite his base coach emphatically trying to give him the stop sign. Derek Jeter snared the ball behind second and threw to Posada, and Punto frantically scrambled back to third. But Posada threw a strike to A-Rod who put the tag on the diving Punto to snuff the threat. WTBS captured the hair-pulling reactions in the Twins dugout.

It was the Twins’ last real threat, while New York tacked on two more insurance runs in the top of the ninth as Ron Mahay, Jon Rausch, and Sergio Mijares each walked a batter, and closer Joe Nathan was forced to come in and clean up the mess. He let up two singles, and two runs, before striking out Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera.

After Mariano Rivera recorded a four out save to nail down the victory, the Yankees headed to their clubhouse for another round of champagne showers, while the Twins filtered out of their dugout one by one. The last man there was Nathan, but instead of heading to the clubhouse, he went to the mound and scooped up a handful of dirt to take home.

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