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10/12/09 12:45 AM EST

Pavano proves himself against Yankees

Game 3 starter stifles former team through first six frames

MINNEAPOLIS -- For six innings on Sunday, Carl Pavano dazzled.

The Twins' Game 3 starter put together his best performance since joining Minnesota in early August, silencing the dangerous bats of the New York Yankees. In the first six frames, Pavano struck out eight hitters and allowed just three hits while keeping the game scoreless. He capped the sixth inning by striking out Johnny Damon, bringing the Metrodome crowd of 54,735 to its feet.

"He was great. It was fun to see," Twins catcher Joe Mauer said. "He was executing his pitches, changing speeds, using both sides. You have to do that against a lineup like they have over there."

Pavano received some defensive help one inning earlier, as a sliding catch by Delmon Young in left field and an unassisted double play by Michael Cuddyer ended the fifth and kept the game scoreless.

"That one inning really gave me a second wind -- the play that Delmon made out in left field and the double-play ball," Pavano said. "If that ball's hit a little shorter or down the line, I think it's a different ballgame from there on out. ... I was able to get out of that jam with some great plays and catch some momentum from there."

A single by Mauer in the bottom of the sixth scored the game's first run, and Pavano trotted back to the mound in the seventh with a chance to earn a postseason win and keep Minnesota's season alive.

"If you're a competitor, who wouldn't want to be in this situation as a starting pitcher?" Pavano said.

But after six scoreless innings, New York's bats finally got the best of the former Yankees hurler. Alex Rodriguez homered to right to tie the game at 1 with one out in the seventh, and Jorge Posada's two-out blast to left put the Yankees up, 2-1, a lead they never relinquished.

"Obviously, they have talent on their side," Pavano said. "They have experience. They don't panic. ... Those two home runs definitely hurt us."

"Pav did a fantastic job of mixing it up," Rodriguez said. "I mean, he had us basically dancing for six innings."

Pavano was officially credited with the loss, his first career postseason defeat. But his nine strikeouts set a franchise record for most in a playoff game, and he exited Sunday's contest with his team trailing by just one run.

Carl Pavano set a Twins playoff record with nine strikeouts in Game 3 of the ALDS, but he took the loss despite holding the Yankees to two runs over seven innings.
7 5 2 2 0 9 2

"He gave us an opportunity to win the ballgame," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

"That's what's frustrating, too, is when you get a pitching performance like that and you want to score a lot of runs for the guy," Mauer said. "He did what a veteran guy does. He goes out there, went right after the guys."

While Pavano took the loss, he felt he made a statement in Sunday's game while facing the team he spent four injury-plagued seasons with.

"I think definitely I've shown I can go out there every fifth day," said Pavano, who becomes a free agent after the World Series. "Do I feel like there's room for improvement? Always. Until your career's over with, there's always room for improvement."

Pavano joined the Twins on Aug. 7, when Minnesota was 5 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central. He compiled a 5-4 record in 12 regular-season starts with the Twins, and after Sunday's loss was able to appreciate just how remarkable their late-season playoff push was.

"We played a great game," Pavano said. "Yeah, we came up short. But the whole road coming here was so enjoyable."

Tyler Mason is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.