They believed this year would be different. The Twins believed the ghosts of playoff failures would drown in the muck at the bottom of the Metrodome's decrepit dugouts, that their new home and seasoned lineup would ward off the Yankees the way garlic repels vampires.
They began their first playoff game at Target Field amid routinely beautiful weather and joyful fans and took a three-run lead into the sixth. It was a perfect night of baseball for Minnesotans until, suddenly, it wasn't, until, suddenly, we were reminded that these were the Twins playing the Yankees, the past was prologue, and the witching hour was near.
Game 1 ended with a faceoff between grand veterans. The Twins' Jim Thome broke his bat on a Mariano Rivera cutter, Alex Rodriguez caught the resulting popup, and it was 6-4, Yankees. As Vonnegut would say, so it goes.
"I don't think we were thinking, 'Uh-oh,' " said Jason Kubel. "They got the last big hit. Hopefully, we can get that hit tomorrow.''
The Twins have been waiting for that tomorrow for years now. They thought it had arrived Wednesday.
For five innings, the teams played role reversal. Francisco Liriano pitched more like a Cy Young candidate than CC Sabathia, the Twins displayed the power (with Michael Cuddyer's laser home run to center in the second) and poise (with Orlando Hudson taking advantage of the Yankees' laziness in the field to manufacture a run in the third) that Yankees seem to have patented.
In baseball, though, history can feel like a lead backpack, and the Twins' history with the Yankees haunted them in the late innings again.
By midnight, the Twins' recent history against the Yankees read like this: 18-55 under manager Ron Gardenhire; 2-10 in the playoffs; 0-6 in playoff games in Minnesota; seven consecutive playoff losses.
"There's no need to sit around and talk about it,'' Hudson said. "It isn't the Twins' curse against the Yankees. This is a new year."
The biggest difference between the teams as the series began appeared to be Sabathia, the ace the Twins couldn't match. And yet they took a 3-0 lead into the top of the sixth, with Liriano finishing his strikeouts with his back to the plate, as if dismissing each batter.
Liriano started the sixth with a strikeout of Nick Swisher, and an optimist could have been forgiven for envisioning the Twins taking a two-game lead to the Bronx, where they'd remove their old curse in new Yankee Stadium.
Then Mark Teixeira smacked a double to left. Rodriguez walked. Robinson Cano singled to right, scoring Teixeira.
Marcus Thames struck out, but Jorge Posada singled, scoring Rodriguez, creating the first tough decision of the series for Gardenhire.
Let Liriano, who had thrown 102 pitches, face the lefthanded-hitting Curtis Granderson? Bring in lefty Jose Mijares, who has proved unreliable lately?
Gardenhire stuck with Liriano, who left a fastball up in the strike zone. Granderson launched it on a high arc off the scoreboard in right, and the Yankees had the lead. "I thought it was a popup,'' Liriano said.
In the seventh, a more personal history repeated itself. Jesse Crain, who earlier this season allowed a two-run homer in the seventh inning to Teixeira, again gave up a two-run homer in the seventh to Teixeira. The Yankees had a two-run lead and Target Field grew as quiet as the Metrodome circa 1999.
The Twins revived the crowd by putting two on in the eighth. With two outs, Yankees manager Joe Girardi summoned Rivera. It was Rivera's 89th postseason appearance, and the 59th in which he would be asked to pitch more than an inning.
Rivera missed with his first three pitches to Denard Span. With the count full, Rivera threw his cutter toward Span's hands. Span's bat splintered, and his soft grounder rolled toward Derek Jeter, who threw to first and pumped his fist.
The Twins have seen that before. The Twins have seen all of this before.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org