NEW YORK — The Minnesota Twins entered their 2019 ALDS endlessly pelted by questions about whether this team could end their MLB record 13-game playoff losing streak the franchise carried into October. All the right things were said. This is a new team, a new group of guys that did not remotely resemble the Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau-led Twins of the 2000’s. Manager Rocco Baldelli assured all listening that the past was the past, and this team could move forward and shake off any of the franchise’s playoff demons and winning the team’s first division title since 2010. Fans dreamed of a playoff revenge tour.
The names on the jerseys may be different and separated by several years, but through two games, the New York Yankees and Twins are doing their best impression of modern Hollywood and rebooting the same storylines of decades past. Two days later, two offensive thrashings later, Minnesota’s record playoff losing streak stands at 15 games, as the Twins now not only confront the prospect of elimination, but a three-game sweep on their home field.
“Well, one thing I feel good about is our guys know we can turn it around,” Baldelli said after the game. “We’ve had a few spurts this year, like every team over a long season where you’re not playing as well as you want. And our guys simply carry on with their routine, with the way they show up to the field, with everything that they do, with everything that they say. We haven’t really had very many mood changes as a group; it’s been pretty consistent every day through the good, through the bad. I’d expect more of the same. I don’t think becoming reactionary in any way — staff-wise, roster-wise — is gonna help us get where we want to be. I think relying on who we are is gonna get us where we want to be.”
The Twins rolled out Randy Dobnak, a 24-year-old who started the season in Single-A Fort Myers before rocketing up through the Minnesota farm system this summer, and who had supplemented his minor league income with work as an Uber driver as recently as this offseason. Dobnak, who posted a 1.59 ERA in 28 ⅓ innings in the regular season, hoped to keep the ball on the ground in a home run-friendly stadium.
But as periodic chants of “UBER, UBER, UBER” rained down from the right-field bleachers, the Yankees smoked the righty in two-plus innings, scoring four runs on six hits and two walks. Dobnak struck out not a single Yankee and left the game after designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion hit a 107.7 mph line drive single in the third inning with one out and a man on base.
“Nerves were fine,” Dobnak said. “I just didn’t have my command tonight.”
Baldelli expressed no regret about going with Dobnak over Jake Odorizzi, who was Minnesota’s second-best pitcher all season, made the All-Star team and will start Game 3.
“Both were going to pitch,” Baldelli said. “Both were most likely going to be starting a game in this series regardless of anything else, so no. We made a choice and just because things didn’t work out doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about them, doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss amongst ourselves, but as far as regret, certainly not.”
The nail in Minnesota’s coffin for the night slammed down when Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who finished the season in a 3-for-23 (.130) slump, hammered a grand slam, nonchalantly twirling his bat to the ground before circling the bases as the momentary King of New York before taking a curtain call. Saturday night’s loss dropped Minnesota’s record against the Yankees in the playoffs to 1-13 since 2003. Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka dominated the Twins’ hitters all game, darting his slider all around the zone and keeping batters off-balance over five innings, allowing one run, walking one and striking out seven while allowing just three hits.
“When pitchers get into that type of groove, it’s hard to switch that momentum,” said first baseman C.J. Cron. “The pitcher always has the upper edge and I don’t think we put enough pressure on their starting pitchers early enough and sometimes that just happens. Sometimes that’s baseball. Hopefully we can swing a little bit more aggressively and have the at-bats we’re used to having.”
Several in the Twins clubhouse observed that the lineup wasn’t swinging at good pitches all night against Tanaka and the New York bullpen. After scoring four runs in Game 1 with three homers from Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano, Minnesota tallied just two runs on six hits, the lone extra-base hit a double from rookie second baseman and No. 9 hitter Luis Arraez.
“It just seems like we’re not playing the ball that we had been for those 100 something wins,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “I mean, we won (101) games playing our game and not every game was a blowout. Not every game was a home run. We won a hundred games a lot of different ways and it just seems like we’re not doing that right now”
Cron said the lineup wasn’t being aggressive enough, and needed to come up with more timely hits with runners on base.
“We were timid,” Cron said. “We wanted to swing but we weren’t swinging with the same aggression that we have all year.”
“I’ve definitely seen this before. I’ve been a part of teams, thank God for giving me these opportunities before, that have been in those situations, being down 3-0 or having to win to make some real noise and been able to do some special things,” Romo said. “The only thing I’ve told these guys is to stay together and stick to the plan. We can polish up certain things here and there, but we’re pretty good too.”
Odorizzi takes the ball on Monday as Minnesota hopes to extend their season another day, ignoring any postseason demons of seasons past.
“I don’t think the history behind it means a lot. I think it’s more of the superficial side of it where on paper it looks bad, but from our standpoint, we have to take this game,” Odorizzi said. “It’s win or go home. We need to be on the top of our game and need to execute. I think we’ve been giving some extra outs and we can’t do that with the caliber of this team.”
The Twins plan on working out Sunday afternoon at Target Field, giving themselves a night to rest up at home before trying to save their season on Monday. The locker room hopes the return back home and their fans gives them an extra boost, trying to extend their year another day.
“It better,” Cron said. “We don’t really have another choice.”