After an improbable comeback in which the Minnesota Twins ended the season 17-4, gained seven games in four weeks and won the American League Central, they matched-up with the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Nobody outside of Minnesota gave the Twins much of a chance, but the playoffs are a time for hope, and so the team took the field with the same expectation as the other seven teams—a playoff run and a shot at a world title.
The three keys to a series victory for Minnesota against the league-best Yankees were splitting in New York, playing freely and hitting in the clutch. In the end, all three keys came into play, and the results favored New York.
Splitting in New York
With the Twins taking the field only 14 hours after arrival in New York and still high on adrenaline after an extra-inning tiebreaker victory to win the division, the Yankees took game one easily after the Twins took an early lead.
There was no Nick Blackburn, no Scott Baker and no Carl Pavano. After using the entire bunch to make a late run at the playoffs, the Twins were forced to go with left-handed rookie Brian Duensing against one of the league’s best.
A Game One loss put the Twins down, but not out. Victory in Game Two would still give the Twins a split in New York, take away home field advantage and send the team back to the Metrodome very much in the race.
With one of the league’s best closers on the mound and a 3-1 lead, the Twins had that chance. Two home runs later and the Twins went from having a strong opportunity to sitting on the brink of elimination.
In baseball you get three strikes and you’re out, and key No. 1 to an ALDS victory went in New York’s favor. The Twins had their chances, but two games ended in two losses to put the Twins in a deep hole.
One of the Twins’ chances came in Game Two. While the Twins scored first, they could have scored much earlier if not for poor base running. Carlos Gomez cost the team a run with a gaffe on the base paths, and the one run eventually would be the difference.
Already down 0-2 in the series, the Twins made another mistake on the bases in Game Three. With Minnesota trailing by a 2-1 score late, Nick Punto was caught rounding third base. Instead of two on with no outs and a threat, the Twins had a runner on first with one out against a dangerous bullpen.
A team that has long prided itself on making smart plays, and a team that doesn’t often get thrown out on the bases, chose the wrong time to change.
After going 4-for-38 with runners in scoring position while being swept earlier this season in New York, Minnesota’s third and final key to victory in the ALDS was hitting in the clutch. The Twins did better, but not enough. They were 8-for-27 with runners in scoring position over the three games, but missed several opportunities. They left 31 runners on base, including 17 in Game Two alone.
As was the case earlier this season, when the Twins were swept in a four-game Yankees series by five total runs, a hit or two in the second two games could have changed the outlook of the series.
A strong month of September with clutch performances on the mound and at the plate helped the Twins make baseball history with a comeback to win the American League Central.
Against a good Yankees club, the team couldn’t capitalize in key moments and ultimately it ended an exciting season and era. There is no satisfaction with a first-round exit, but there is no denying that some final memories were made under the roof of the Metrodome.