By Howie Rumberg, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK -- The Minnesota Twins ditched the dome for a beautiful outdoor ballpark, boosted payroll to bring in experienced veterans and locked in MVP Joe Mauer for eight years.
Then they beat up on the AL Central even without the injured Justin Morneau. Now they just have to figure out how to win in the postseason.
Brian Duensing flopped in his second postseason start at Yankee Stadium and the Twins lost to New York 6-1 Saturday night in Game 3 of their division series, a defeat that sent Minnesota home for the second straight year without winning a game in the first round.
"It's not what we set out in spring training to do," Michael Cuddyer said.
Minnesota pushed its payroll to nearly $100 million this season, bringing in J.J. Hardy, Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson. And despite losing Morneau to a concussion in July, the disciplined Twins batted .273 with an on-base percentage (.341) second only to New York during the regular season.
But without Morneau and Mauer playing with a sore knee, the Twins fell flat, hitting .222 with runners in scoring position (2 for 18) and one RBI. That's for a club that led the majors with a .285 RISP average during the regular season, according to STATS LLC.
"What it boils down to is they hit and we didn't, especially in big situations," Cuddyer said.
Mauer, who signed a $184 million contract extension, was 3 for 12 with no RBIs in the series. Jason Kubel, who gave Twins fans a thrill with a grand slam off Mariano Rivera in May, went 0 for 8 in the series. Thome, nursing a sore back, went 1 for 10 with zero RBIs.
"We just didn't play up to the best of our abilities," Mauer said.
Having earned home-field advantage in the first round, this year was going to be different for the team that had not won a playoff game since former ace Johan Santana won Game 1 of the ALDS against New York in 2004 -- 12 in a row overall now.
But the outcome remained the same.
Playing at Target Field, where the Twins drew more than 3.2 million fans, Francisco Liriano couldn't hold a 3-0 lead in Game 1 and Carl Pavano came unglued after a bad call cost him strike three against Lance Berkman in the fifth inning of Game 2.
Going into Saturday night, the Twins had lost eight straight postseason games to the Yankees despite leading in every one of them -- a postseason record for consecutive losses in games in which the losing team held a lead, according to the Elias Sport Bureau.
On Saturday, the Twins snapped their streak -- they never led, and trailed 5-0 before they put a runner on second against Phil Hughes.
"It is tough. Offensively we did so much during the year and grinded out at-bats. Maybe you got to credit their pitching," Thome said. "We had some opportunities and we didn't get it done. When they would score and put a little pressure, we would want to come back and never were able to do it."
The Twins loaded the bases in the eighth after Hughes was out, but again couldn't put together a big inning.
"I think pretty much through the whole series we missed our opportunities to score runs," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Duensing gave up five runs and seven hits in 3.1 innings. He lost Game 1 in 2009.
With closer Joe Nathan out for the season, Minnesota acquired Matt Capps at the trade deadline and setup man Brian Fuentes in late August. Neither got a chance to protect leads.
"They made some very good pitches when they needed to, and we couldn't get that hit when we needed to and it seemed when the situations were reversed and we needed to make that pitch, we didn't," Capps said. "I think all the way around we got beat."