Carl Pavano didn’t even need to plead his case to stay in the game. His performance was argument enough.
Minnesota’s go-to pitcher stranded the tying run at third base with one out in the ninth, punctuating his fourth complete game of the season with five straight strikes that finished off the middle of Chicago’s lineup.
Pavano picked up right where he left off before the All-Star break, striking out six while going the distance for the Twins in a tense 3-2 win over the White Sox on Saturday night.
“That was his ballgame,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We knew it.”
With his pitch count at just 95 entering the final frame, Pavano (11-6) _ who threw 79 of 104 offerings for strikes _ got a rousing ovation from the sellout crowd at Target Field when he returned to the mound for the ninth inning.
“I didn’t think there was going to be any talking,” Pavano said.
While the rest of Minnesota’s starters struggled often in the first half, Pavano and his mustache helped keep the Twins afloat. The ninth was a masterpiece in itself, after Omar Vizquel started the inning with a double that rolled right down the third-base line.
Alex Rios moved him up with a groundout. Then Paul Konerko, who hit an RBI single in the first and smacked his 21st homer in the fourth, struck out on three pitches. Pavano pumped his fist, and the fans went wild.
Carlos Quentin grounded out to end the duel between Pavano and Mark Buehrle (8-8) in an astonishing 1 hour, 52 minutes _ the third-fastest nine-inning game in the majors this season, according to STATS LLC.
Buehrle is a fast worker himself, and Pavano fed off the pace set by his counterpart. On a muggy night, Pavano returned to the clubhouse after each inning to change sweaty shirts and do some stretching.
“Came out in the dugout, and it’s like four pitches and he’s got two outs,” Pavano said. “Luckily I felt good.”
Buehrle went the distance himself, for the first time this year.
Delmon Young, who has a team-most 60 RBIs, sparked a three-run second inning against Buehrle with a run-scoring single. Jason Kubel’s triple and rookie Danny Valencia’s double just missed clearing the wall.
“I put two balls in play that found a hole, and then they just crushed two balls,” Buehrle said. “You get down three runs real quick. Down too many runs early, it’s tough to come back.”
Particularly with Pavano in such a rhythm. Vizquel’s comebacker in the sixth stung him near the wrist on his non-pitching arm, but the right-hander quickly motioned for Gardenhire and the training staff to stay in the dugout and keep from slowing the game down.
“Had a couple good swings off him, but in that last at-bat he just beat me,” Konerko said. “I wouldn’t do anything differently. He just beat me.”
The third-place Twins crept within 2-1/2  games of the White Sox in the three-team, always-tight AL Central race. Catcher Drew Butera gave Pavano a hard embrace after Quentin was retired in the ninth.
“What better way to show some love than a little mustache hug,” said Butera, who’s growing some fuzz above his upper lip in honor of Pavano.
Postcard-like lightning flashed in the sky while heavy rain fell in the afternoon, canceling batting practice, but Pavano and Buehrle worked so efficiently and effectively through the evening that they got the whole game in before the next storm wave reached downtown.
Pavano retired 11 in a row at one point, and Buehrle had a 14-of-15 stretch.
Buehrle was a big part of Chicago’s pre-break surge, going 5-1 in his previous six starts while allowing just 10 runs over 40 1-3 innings. He helped himself with two deft pick-off moves, catching Denard Span after a leadoff single in the first and Young following a single to start the fourth.
Pavano had plenty of defensive assistance, too, including rookie Butera’s strong throw to cut down Juan Pierre attempting to steal second with two out in the eighth.
NOTES: Twins reliever Clay Condrey, who hasn’t pitched all season because of a bad right elbow, likely will have surgery. … Buehrle leads the majors with 72 pick-offs since 2001. … Chicago also was involved in the second-fastest nine-inning game of the season, John Danks’ 1-0 victory over Ervin Santana and the Los Angeles Angels in 1 hour, 50 minutes on July 8. The speediest game of the year is Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game when the Detroit Tigers beat the Cleveland Indians in 1:44 on June 2.


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