Twins cannot figure out Yankees
Familiar postseason scenario plays out in another playoff loss to Yanks
The only way the Minnesota Twins' utter futility against the New York Yankees could be any worse is if we also had to listen to Doris Kearns Goodwin and the rest of the usual New England literati blather on about how crushing it is to lose to New York year after year.
Season after season, the Twins win the AL Central. And October after October, the Yankees beat them senseless in the postseason. It's like winning the lottery one day only to have the IRS, your credit card company, your student loan lender, your mortgage holder, your ex-spouse, your unemployed cousins and your bookie show up at the front door the next day and take all the money, then raid the fridge for good measure.
Indoors or outdoors, home or road, summer or autumn -- it doesn't matter. The Twins played their first outdoor postseason game in 40 years Wednesday night, led early, threatened late and still lost to the Yankees as usual, this time 6-4 in the opener of their American League Division Series. It was Minnesota's 10th consecutive postseason loss and 13th in its past 15. Ten of those 13 losses have been against the Yankees.
Since Ron Gardenhire took over as manager in 2002, the Twins are 16-45 (.262) against the Yankees during the regular season, which Elias says is the worst record any team has against an opponent during that span. The record is even worse when you include Minnesota's 2-10 postseason mark against the Yankees: 18-55 (.246). That's a worse winning percentage than the 1962 Mets had. The Twins so resemble the Washington Generals to the Yankees' Harlem Globetrotters that I keep expecting to see Derek Jeter pull down Joe Mauer's pants and toss a bucket of confetti into the Minnesota dugout.
"It's frustrating, it hurts. It stings and it takes a long time to get over it, no doubt," Minnesota first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. "Hopefully we can win [Game 2] and figure out a way to win Saturday, and so on and so on. But it all starts with [Thursday's] game."
Cuddyer said he doesn't think the Yankees have taken up residence in the Twins' heads, pointing out that very few of the current players go back beyond last season, and many don't go back even that far.
Indeed, this year was supposed to be different. This year, the Twins' scrappy little underdog image was as out of date as Carl Pavano's '70s porn 'stache. Minnesota isn't a blue-collar team anymore, unless your definition of "blue collar" is a bunch of guys earning an average of $4 million per season while having someone carry their bags, shine their shoes and pick up their underwear. Even within the ludicrous world of baseball finances, a payroll of more than $100 million is a lot of money. Gone are the days of scraping by on IOUs, postdated checks and digging for loose change between the sofa cushions. Well, the Pohlads still search for loose change, but they can't help themselves.
After 29 years in the Metrodome, the Twins moved outside to a spectacular $500 million stadium, where they went 53-28 this season. And Game 1 began well. On a gorgeous autumn night with a record crowd of 42,032 cramming the ballpark, Cuddyer hit a two-run homer off CC Sabathia in the second inning, Orlando Hudson went from first to third on an infield single and scored on a passed ball in the third inning and the Twins took a 3-0 lead into the sixth.
Which, of course, is when it all fell apart in as predictable an outcome as the protagonist meeting a bad, bloody end in a Coen brothers movie. So instead of a crucial opening victory over Sabathia and the Yankees, they lost and now can feel the chill of winter drawing near. There is no Tru-Coat to protect the Twins against the Yankees.
"I wish I could tell you what [it is], because then we could change it," Cuddyer said. "We just have to figure out a way to win. We play well but it's like we play just good enough until the very end. And that's the way it was again [in Game 1]."
This is what is so frustrating. The Twins give their fans hope only to put them through the woodchipper. They've had a lead in six of the past seven losses to New York.
This time the collapse came in the sixth inning when manager Ron Gardenhire stayed with a tiring Francisco Liriano, who gave up what appeared to be an inning-ending fly ball to Curtis Granderson that turned out to be a game-changing two-run triple off the wall.
"Off the bat, I wouldn't say it was a lazy fly ball but I thought I would catch it against the wall," center fielder Denard Span said. "Then I thought I would catch it jumping against the wall. And then it hit high off the wall."
Gardenhire defended his decision to stick with Liriano, pointing out his success against Granderson throughout his career and in the game, and insisting the lefty deserved a chance to get the batter out. "That was his shot. He's our ace, I don't want to jerk him out. Let him have a shot -- that is what he is supposed to be here for."
Gardenhire has lost five postseason series in a row, and if he loses this series he'll be the first manager to lose six in a row (only Bobby Cox also lost five in a row, though he could keep pace if Atlanta loses to the Giants).
But maybe it wouldn't have made any difference anyway. The Twins rallied to tie the game off Sabathia in the bottom of the sixth only to see Jesse Crain come in and give up a two-run homer to Mark Teixeira in the top of the seventh. That was it. The Twins stranded eight runners in the final four innings.
Having blown a golden opportunity to beat Sabathia for a 1-0 lead, they'll send Pavano out against Andy Pettitte in Game 2 to prevent a crippling 0-2 deficit before the series moves to New York. Pavano was 17-11 with a 3.75 this season and he pitched a strong Game 3 against the Yankees last year, taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh.
Naturally, the Twins lost that game.
"It's an attitude over here. It comes from the top down," New York right fielder Nick Swisher said. "Regardless of the situation, regardless of the team, we almost feel like we're going out and playing a headless opponent."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
DIVISION SERIES WRAP-UP
NATIONAL LEAGUEPhillies 4, Reds 0
AMERICAN LEAGUERangers 5, Rays 1
Yankees 6, Twins 4