Torii Hunter was on the phone from his home state of Arkansas, where he was attending a family celebration. He offered to guest-write the beginning of this column.
“The title should be, ‘Oh ye of little faith,’ ” Hunter said. “That’s my message to anyone who thinks the Twins shouldn’t want to play the Yankees.”
One definition of “faith” is “firm belief in something of which there is no proof.” For paranoid Twins fans, that captures the challenge of playing the New York Yankees in the postseason. Current and former Twins believe there is no reason to fear their playoff matchup, but that belief is hardly supported by historical fact.
The Twins have lost 13 consecutive playoff games, and 10 of those losses were administered by the Yankees.
But I agree with Hunter. The Twins should not only welcome this matchup, they should appreciate it. The alternative was facing the Houston Astros and their dominant starting pitching. The Yankees are a more reasonable matchup for the Twins.
The Yankees have advantages. They won more games and earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, earning home-field advantage. The Twins could resort to two or more “bullpen games,” meaning they might start pitchers who might have never made it to the big leagues had they signed with the Yankees.
Math and logic favor the Yankees. But the Yankees’ pitching and injury woes give the Twins a puncher’s — or a slugger’s — chance.
“Oh, yeah,” Hunter said. “This Twins team has done great things. The Yankees have played great baseball, too, but this matchup is different. Back in the day, when we were facing the Yankees, we didn’t have much of a payroll. We were like mininum-wage workers compared to the Yankees. They were supposed to win.
“Right now, they ain’t supposed to win. I think these Twins can play with anybody, and I think they have a really good shot at winning.”
If there was a common denominator in the Yankees’ many playoff victories over the Twins, it was the pitcher-batter matchups. Veteran Yankees pitchers used the anxiousness of young Twins hitters against them.
This time, the Twins have the kind of deep, relentless lineup that wears out pitchers and launches mistakes. For what it’s worth, the private theme in the Twins clubhouse earlier this week was that the Twins are built to beat good pitching as well as bad, and are built to win what might be slugfests against the Yankees.
This series might look a lot like the series played between the teams in July at Target Field. The Twins won the opener 8-6, then lost 14-12 in 10 innings and 10-7 in the finale. The difference in the series? Yankees center fielder and former Twin Aaron Hicks made an improbable diving-away-from-home-plate catch to rob Max Kepler of a bases-loaded, game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th of the second game.
“The American League is just stacked, so there are no easy matchups,” former Twins star Michael Cuddyer said. “We’re so far removed from our era that there’s no reason for this team to worry about what’s happened in the past. We know how bad that history was, but history shouldn’t have any bearing on this series.”
Former Twins closer Joe Nathan, as a native New Yorker, relished playing in Yankee Stadium. “We played those playoffs against one of the best eras ever for the Yankees, and that’s saying something, considering Yankees history,” he said. “To face that team with that lineup, with the great veteran pitching they had, and we were going in with a team that might have been picked to finish third or fourth in the division, that was a challenge.
“But I think this is exactly who this team should be playing in the first round. I think this Twins team has a legitimate shot to beat these guys, and I think if they do beat them, it will give them a jump start to go super-deep into this thing and get where they want to go.”