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Yankees Silence the Twins

Clemens gives up one run in seven innings, Matsui hits a two-run homer to neutralize Metrodome crowd in New York's 3-1 victory in Game 3.

October 05, 2003|Anthony Rieber | Newsday

MINNEAPOLIS — As Game 3 of this American League division series got underway Saturday, 55,915 screaming, Homer Hanky-waving Minnesota Twin fans were doing their best to press their team's greatest advantage:

We have the Metrodome! We have the super-fast turf! That ugly roof! And the noise! Get out your earplugs!

But Hideki Matsui took the air out of the dome with a two-run home run in the second inning and Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera did their best to press the New York Yankees' greatest advantage -- pitching. Three hours and two minutes after it started, Rivera finished a 3-1 victory that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. Game 4 is today, with David Wells facing Johan Santana.

"Crowd's loud here, crowd's loud in New York, crowd's loud everywhere in the postseason," Yankee captain Derek Jeter said. "I'm sure if they scored some more runs, it would have been a lot louder. We were able to score early and keep them pretty much out of the game."

Clemens helped with that. The 41-year-old future Hall of Fame member, in what still could be the last start of his career, threw a tidy seven innings, giving up a home run by A.J. Pierzynski in the third inning. Clemens, who gave up five hits and a walk and struck out six, left after throwing 99 pitches.

"He looked calm, he looked poised," catcher Jorge Posada said. "Toward the end of the game, we were just having fun."

Also fun for the Yankees was recapturing the feeling of dominance Rivera gives them. With two off days in this series in his pocket, Torre called on Rivera for a two-inning save for the second game in a row. Rivera made the Twins look feeble with a perfect performance in which he struck out three. He has faced 12 Twins in the series and retired all of them.

"Oh, my God, he was just overpowering," Bernie Williams said of Rivera, who threw 19 pitches, 17 for strikes.

"This ain't no slump," said Twin center fielder Torii Hunter, who made the last out against Rivera after extending his career hitless streak against Clemens to 0 for 23. "Look at the pitchers. They're totally different from other pitchers. Veterans. Salary. The Yankees. Experience. You name it."

The Yankees had the same starting pitchers last season but were bounced in the first round by the Angels. In that American League division series, the Yankee starters' earned-run average was 10.39. After three games in 2003, it's 2.14, and two of the runs Mike Mussina gave up in the Yankees' Game 1 loss were tainted by bad defense. The Twins are nine for 64 in the last two games.

"I had a sense going into this series that our starters were pitching better going into the postseason than we were last year," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "Last year was 100 years ago.... I know I'm a lot more comfortable watching our pitchers pitch this year."

Signs that this was going to be a low-scoring game were apparent in the first inning. Starter Kyle Lohse, pumping in fastballs on his 25th birthday, struck out Jeter and Jason Giambi.

Clemens, knowing he might be making his final start, walked leadoff batter Shannon Stewart, who stole second after a fly-ball out. But Clemens retired Doug Mientkiewicz on a grounder to second and struck out Matthew LeCroy.

"That guy can pitch. He can flat-out pitch," Manager Ron Gardenhire said of Clemens. "You see him out there huffing and puffing. When he got into a little bit of a jam, you can see him step back and find a little extra."

Matsui's home run into the upper deck in right field in the second inning gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Williams' two-out single to center in the third drove in Juan Rivera, who had three hits.

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