Minnesota Nice just doesn't cut it in New York

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2011 - 1:43 AM

The Twins have been mugged by the Yankees in the Bronx and need to quit being such passive victims.

Mark Teixeira has homered in all three games this season.

Photo: Chris O'meara, Associated Press

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TORONTO - Whatever you think of them, the front-running and often caustic fans of the New York Yankees conduct one of baseball's best rituals.

In the top of the first, the denizens of the right field bleachers call, in sing-song voices, the name of each Yankees position player, making each name reverbate until that player motions to them in appreciation. Rarely in modern professional sports do you find such affectionate bonding between those who wear real jerseys and those who purchase theirs in the souvenir shop.

Whatever you think of it, the Yankees organization also conducts one of the most timeless, if annoying, of baseball's rituals. After every Yankees victory, the PA plays "New York, New York," a song that, to the Twins, must sound as grating and regrettably unforgettable as the "Macarena."

Somewhere between that great introduction and that grating coda, the Twins this week will try survive the aural intimidation and aura of domination that has victimized them in Yankee Stadium ever since Ron Gardenhire began writing out lineups.

Gardenhire is 4-25 in regular-season games at Yankee Stadium (both old and new) as Twins manager. He is 2-5 in playoff games at Yankee Stadium, having lost his past four games there.

The Twins enjoyed a brief respite from their pneumatic beatings in Yankee Stadium the last time they played a regular-season game there. Jason Kubel flicked a Mariano Rivera pitch headed for his left ankle into the right field bleachers for a game-winning grand slam in May 2010, a stunning blow that reeked of symbolism ... and yet didn't prevent the Yankees from beating the Twins in the clinching Game 3 of the playoffs in the Bronx.

Monday night, the Twins begin a four-game series in Yankee Stadium. This will be their only trip to the Bronx this year, unless the teams meet in the playoffs for the fourth time in nine seasons.

How they fare this week might have little impact on the Twins' chances of reaching the postseason, but even people within the organization will admit that, at some point, these players will need to prove they can win routinely in Yankee Stadium, will need to prove they possess the grit and gamesmanship required to transcend baseball's richest team and most intimidating environment.

What's vexing for Twins fans is that their team not only fails to beat the Yankees, their team often looks overmatched and timid when confronted with pinstripes.

Asked about facing the Yankees so early in the season, Gardenhire sounded almost conciliatory.

"It doesn't really matter when you play them, to tell you the truth," Gardenhire said before Sunday's game. "They're on your schedule and you have to play them.

"I don't know, people say, 'Great to get them out of the way.' I don't know. I'll let you know after we go there; it might not be great to get them out of the way. We have to play the schedule out."

Gardenhire's job requires that he take the long view, that he avoid building an early-season series into a do-or-die challenge. If he did so and the Twins got swept, what would he say then?

Still, at some point the Twins, a team with a $115 million payroll, a few of the game's best players and six playoff appearances in nine seasons, should welcome the challenges of Yankee Stadium. At some point, a key Twin should express defiance instead of deference.

"Our big thing is trying to survive and get home, get home to our field, that's try to get a win today, then go to New York and play some good baseball and get home to our field and kind of try to get comfortable again," Gardenhire said Sunday morning.

When he says "survive," Gardenhire sounds like he would settle for leaving New York with his wallet. One of these trips, the Twins should be bold enough to demand a series victory.

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. • jsouhan@startribune.com

  • twins 4, toronto 3 Up next: Four-game series vs. N.Y. Yankees at Yankee Stadium • Game 1 at 6:05 p.m. today • TV: FSN and ESPN (1500ESPN)
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