Commentary

Twins can get back in this ALDS

All Minnesota has to do is follow these steps to finally beat the Yankees

Originally Published: October 9, 2010
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

So after getting swept at home, the Twins must go into Yankee Stadium, face the defending world champions in front of baseball's most notorious fans and win two consecutive games to send the series back home for a fifth game in Minnesota, where they haven't won a postseason game in eight years. And all that against a team that has beat them eight consecutive postseason games and 11 of the past 12.

Plus, they have to worry about bed bugs.

"I mean, there's pressure,'' Game 3 starter Brian Duensing said. "We have to try to get to Sunday. We have to win. But we can't try and do too much. We have to go out there and play well. The Yankees are a good team. Everyone knows that. If we go out there and try to do too much, we're going to put ourselves into a bigger hole than we're already in.''

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJoe Mauer needs to run in and carry the Twins, just like Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris once did.

Actually, there is no bigger hole to dig, just a grave to cover up if the Twins don't find a way to finally beat the Yankees. It's possible, but here's what they must do:

1. Evict the Yankees from your head.

The Twins are 18-56 (.243) against the Yankees since 2002 when Ron Gardenhire took over as manager, including a 2-11 record in the postseason. The most frustrating thing about those eight consecutive postseason losses is the Twins led in all eight games. They could have won most and should have won some but wilted in the end.

The Yankees are so firmly lodged inside the Twins' heads that they've taken over the master bedroom and started having their mail forwarded there. And now they'll be joined by 48,000 or so loud fans drinking beer, stomping their feet, howling at the top of their voices and turning up the music to 11. Politely knocking on the door and asking everyone to please quiet down won't help. The Twins have to go in there and toss them out on their own.

Hire a hypnotist. Picture the Yankees in their underwear (well, maybe not CC Sabathia). Wear the rose in front. Better yet, drown out the negative thoughts, feed off the hostility, take an early lead, silence the crowd and get the job done.

And the Twins can do it because these Yankees aren't the best edition New York has produced. They struggled in September. They are beatable, but not if the Twins keep playing as if expecting something -- Phil Cuzzi, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Hunter Wendelstedt -- to go wrong.

Unless the Twins eliminate the Yankees from their heads, they might as well sublet that space to the Rangers.

2. Someone get in the driver's seat and get it on.

After the Twins lost three games in a row to Atlanta to fall behind 3-2 in the 1991 World Series, Kirby Puckett walked into the clubhouse before Game 6 and famously announced, "Jump on -- I'm driving this bus.'' He then had one of the finest games in World Series history, with a single, a triple, a stolen base, two runs, three RBIs, a leaping catch against the fence and a walk-off home run in the 10th inning.

Immediately after that game, St. Paul native Jack Morris talked about his start the next night and quoted Marvin Gaye by saying, "Let's get it on." He then threw a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout that ranks among the finest in World Series history.

Now that the series is in New York, Minnesota needs a player to grab the controls and drive the subway train. Joe Mauer (two singles, three strikeouts and no runs in nine at-bats so far) would be a good candidate. He's the Twins' best player, the one with the $184 million contract. Like Puckett, he's a state icon, the most popular athlete in Minnesota. Like Morris, he's a St. Paul native who grew up rooting for the Twins. He remembers watching both from his living room in 1991. It's time for him to join them in postseason legend.

Duensing said Mauer was very vocal after the Game 2 loss, telling everyone this was no time to quit. That's good. Now he has to back up the words the same way Puckett and Morris did.

3. You have a bullpen, Gardy. Use it wisely.

The Twins not only have a payroll in excess of $100 million, but they added nearly $10 million during the season by trading for closer Matt Capps and reliever Brian Fuentes. Despite that, Gardenhire stayed too long with his starters in the first two games after things started unraveling.

[+] EnlargeMichael Cuddyer
AP Photo/Bill KostrounDon't throw your hands up, Twins. This series can still be won.

Francisco Liriano pitched an outstanding first five innings in Game 1, but he clearly was losing it in the sixth inning when he gave up two singles, a double, a walk and finally a two-run triple to Curtis Granderson. Carl Pavano was very good as well in Game 2, but the Yankees started hitting him their second and third times through the lineup. He walked the leadoff batter in the seventh and got flustered after umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called a ball instead of strike three on Lance Berkman. Pavano allowed a run-scoring double on the next pitch, followed by two singles that made the score 4-2 before Gardenhire brought in Jose Mijares.

Yes, both starters had pitched well. And yes, the situation fell apart very quickly each time. But the warning signs were there -- Liriano was over 100 pitches and Pavano had allowed nine of 17 batters to reach base safely before he gave up a run-scoring single to Jeter to make it 4-2. Close games can get out of hand rapidly in the postseason, and managers must react quickly by having a reliever ready just in case. Those who don't spend the rest of October at home.

The Yankees can be beat. Game 3 starter Phil Hughes had a 4.90 ERA in the second half. Duensing was 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA and knows about pitching in big games. He's pitched in the College World Series, the Olympics and Game 1 of last year's division series at Yankee Stadium. It won't be easy, but win one game and the outlook changes dramatically.

"Anytime you go out with pressure on the line, it's going to make it more fun,'' Duensing said. "It's going to make it more intense. That's what you strive for. That's why you play the game. This is major league baseball. We're here for a reason. The way we've been playing throughout the season is what got us here. … We can get it done if we play well.''

They can. The Mariners rallied from 2-0 to beat the Yankees in the 1995 division series (although the last three games were all in Seattle). Still, it's just too bad the Twins let David Ortiz go.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com