Taken to the woodshed
By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins ran themselves right out of the Metrodome.
Nick Punto's baserunning blunder cost the Twins a chance to tie the game in the eighth inning, and the New York Yankees eliminated Minnesota with a 4-1 victory Sunday night in their division series that shut the doors for good on professional baseball in the raucous, quirky ballpark.
After the Yankees took their celebration into the clubhouse, the Twins' grounds crew began digging up home plate for delivery to their new open-air stadium and closer Joe Nathan scooped up a handful of dirt from the mound.
"Just something to bring to the new stadium and sprinkle that on the new mound, bring a little history into the new place," Nathan said.
With the Twins trailing 2-1 in the eighth, Punto led off the inning with a double. Denard Span followed with a grounder up the middle that Punto likely thought was headed for the outfield, and he rounded third base and headed for home.
But Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who always seems to be in the middle of the biggest plays of the fall, cut it off and fired home.
Punto ran right through third base coach Scott Ullger's stop sign, then slammed on the brakes when catcher Jorge Posada caught Jeter's throw. Posada quickly threw to third baseman Alex Rodriguez to get Punto sliding back into the bag for the out.
Orlando Cabrera flied out to center field and Joe Mauer grounded out to first to end the inning and the Twins' last best chance to avoid being swept out of the playoffs.
"I heard 55,000 people screaming so I felt like the ball got through," Punto said. "I wanted to dig a hole, crawl inside it and hide. It's embarrassing. That can't happen."
The loss was a disappointing finish to a memorable 28-year run for the Twins in a ballpark that gave birth to the Homer Hanky and carried the team to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.
What this mass of concrete and plastic lacked in charm and amenities, it made up for in atmosphere. With a baseball-colored roof that wreaked havoc on opposing fielders and a boisterous crowd that made it sound like a 747 was taking off from a runway in the outfield, the "Thunderdome" earned a reputation as one of the few true home-field advantages in baseball.
"We're gonna miss it. But hey, we're going outside," Punto said. "It's going to be great for the fans. But you can't really simulate 55,000 people cheering and almost bringing the house down. It feels like, at times, the Metrodome was just going to crumble."
The Twins were 11-1 under the big, white Teflon roof during their title runs in '87 and '91, but the building appeared to lose some of that mystique and influence as the team enjoyed a resurgence at the turn of the century.
Minnesota lost the final eight postseason games played here, dating back to Game 1 of the ALCS against the Angels in 2002.
It was fitting that it was the Yankees who pulled the curtain on the Dome's colorful baseball career. They have owned this place since Minnesota's return to competitiveness in 2002, going 23-11 here since Ron Gardenhire took over as Twins manager.
Five of those victories have come in the postseason, including two each in 2003 and 2004.
After a deflating 11-inning loss to the Yankees in the Bronx that put them on the brink of elimination, the Twins were hoping to harness a little most of that old Metrodome magic to get back into this series.
There just wasn't any left.
"It was a great run this place had," first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. "It went away kicking and screaming."