NEW YORK -- This was the year that the Twins intended to turn around their first-round woes and deliver what has proven to be an elusive feat in recent years -- a deep postseason run.
Instead, the Twins' season once again came to an abrupt halt in the American League Division Series.
The Twins entered Saturday night's Game 3 of the ALDS against the Yankees seeking to stave off elimination and keep their 2010 season alive. But they fell behind early, turning to their bullpen in the fourth inning, and never seemed to give themselves an opportunity in a 6-1 loss to the Yankees that completed the series sweep.
It marked the third consecutive sweep that the Twins have suffered in the first round of the playoffs, including a sweep by the A's in 2006 and one by this same Yankees club last season.
This was also the fifth straight first-round exit for the Twins since 2003, with four of those coming against the Yankees.
"Right now, we're in a little rut here," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We can't seem to put it together. Once we get into the playoffs, we're playing pretty good baseball teams. And you have to be at your best. ... We just didn't get it done. We haven't got it done. And we have to do some more searching here in trying to figure out how to get it done because we definitely, definitely can do it. We know we can.
"We know we're a good baseball team. You just have to put it together at the right time. And we just haven't done it."
The Twins turned to left-hander Brian Duensing on Saturday with the hopes of forcing a Game 4 and snapping a 12-game postseason losing streak that dates back to the 2004 ALDS. The losing streak is the second longest in Major League history -- the Red Sox carried a 13-game postseason losing streak from 1986-95.
The Yankees sent right-hander Phil Hughes to the mound for his first postseason start, and the Twins' hopes were pinned on their lefty-heavy lineup. But Duensing was outshined by Hughes, who pitched seven scoreless innings, while the Twins' left-hander found his outing cut short.
Duensing allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings and with the Twins' postseason on the line, Gardenhire didn't wait to turn to his bullpen. Following a one-out walk to Curtis Granderson in the fourth by Duensing, Gardenhire called on Matt Guerrier.
The Yankees had scored a run off Duensing in both the second and third innings. Robinson Cano led off the second with a triple off the center-field wall and scored on Jorge Posada's single to left. In the third, Nick Swisher hit a two-out double and Mark Teixeira followed with another RBI single to make it a 2-0 New York lead.
The Twins' nine-game skid vs. the Yanks in the playoffs is the longest active stretch.
A two-run homer by Marcus Thames -- his first postseason homer -- put the Yankees up, 4-0, with no outs in the fourth. Duensing got Posada on a called third strike but followed that with a walk to Granderson to signal the end of the left-hander's night.
After he had returned to the dugout, Duensing sat on the bench with his head down, staring at the ground and running his hand through his hair.
"It was tough," Duensing said. "The guys were looking for me to step up and have a good outing, being down 0-2, and I didn't really deliver at all. I let down all the guys with that start. It was just disappointing. I was frustrated, disappointed and upset all at the same time."
The end certainly was not the type of finish the club expected in what had been a season full of high hopes. This was a team that had overcome the losses of All-Star closer Joe Nathan and MVP first baseman Justin Morneau en route to winning 94 games and capturing their sixth AL Central title in nine years under Gardenhire.
In the Twins' first season at Target Field, and with the payroll reaching $100 million for the first time in franchise history, expectations had been raised. But despite the loss of key players and some rough patches along the way, the team had consistently made the World Series their goal and there was a real belief that they could achieve it.
Instead, the club continued its streak of first-round exits. The Twins have now lost nine straight postseason games against the Yankees -- the longest active streak of its kind and the third longest in MLB history -- who have proven proven to be a venerable foe in the regular season as well with the Twins dropping to 18-57 against them since Gardenhire took over as manager in 2002.
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"It's tough to say they don't have our number," said Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer.
"We just ran into the Yankees," added right fielder Jason Kubel. "They do this every year, it seems like, at least to us. It just wasn't our time again."
Hughes cruised easily through the Twins' lineup early, retiring nine straight batters while throwing 29 pitches through three innings. Denard Span tallied the first hit of the game off Hughes to lead off the fourth inning. But it was quickly erased when Orlando Hudson grounded into a double play and Joe Mauer flew out to left field.
It was an example of the ineffectiveness of the Twins' offense throughout the series, with the hitters struggling to come up with clutch hits. It took until the eighth inning on Saturday for Minnesota to come alive and snap an 0-for-13 mark with runners in scoring position -- and that only came after Hughes had exited the game.
Danny Valencia doubled off Kerry Wood to start the eighth inning, and Span followed with a single that was the Twins' first hit with a runner in scoring position of the series. Hudson followed a run-scoring single, and Wood walked Mauer to load the bases.
But the Twins couldn't amass one of those late-inning rallies as Kubel popped out against left-hander Boone Logan, which brought Kubel's career postseason batting average to .069) and Delmon Young had a flyout to center off right-hander David Robertson to end the inning. Overall, the Twins finished the series going just 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and struggling to do the things that had gotten them to this point.
On Sept. 21, the Twins became the first Major League team to clinch a spot in the postseason when they won their division.
On Saturday night, they were the first team to get knocked out from the playoffs.
"It's not what we set out in Spring Training to do," Cuddyer said. "We had a good season. Just the end result wasn't what we wanted."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.