Liquor Lyle’s, at the intersection of Franklin and Hennepin avenues in Uptown, is a venerable institution with a flurry of 2-for-1 drink specials, absolutely no natural light and an eclectic mix of patrons.
Those ingredients — plus a nice set of TVs and bartenders who know when a game is big enough to leave the sound on — make it a terrific place to watch sports. And on Tuesday, the theory was this: Lyle’s would be the absolute perfect place to watch the Twins vs. Yankees Wild Card game — win or lose.
So a group of us gathered there and we were joined eventually by a full crowd throughout the bar. I’d guess it was 75 percent people there for the game and 25 percent people who were wondering why all these baseball fans were intruding on their quiet Tuesday drinking night. Readers who go way back to the early days of this blog should note that among the attendees was a commenter who goes by the name of Joker, a gentleman who adds a little something to any gathering. Also in attendance: My friend Anthony (pictured above, with that amazing shirt) whose skill at doing magic tricks would become important as the night went on.
It was good to be back in a familiar place with familiar people. As the night went on, though, it became clear that the result would be all-too-familiar as well.
First, there was the nervous anticipation as first pitch of the one-game Wild Card game approached. There were the theories about how the Twins could win. There was the angst about the history. There were 2-for-1 drinks until 7 p.m. and a staffing problem in the Lyle’s kitchen, meaning plenty of people were hungry but not thirsty.
Then the game started and delivered that glorious jolt of optimism. The Twins had a more narrow path to victory than the Yankees, and it was predicated upon getting an early lead. Boom, boom, it was 3-0 after a half an inning. This triggered wild enthusiasm, followed by immediate fear. As a Minnesota sports fan, your mind works backwards. When things are going poorly, you cling to optimism. When thing are going well, you worry that they won’t.
And then they didn’t. Just as quickly as the lead came — OK, nothing really came quickly in a first inning that spanned 45 minutes and multiple beverages — it was gone.
It was 3-3, then 4-3 Yankees, then 4-4, then 5-4 Yankees. When the Twins took a lead, the Yankees tied the game in the bottom half. When the Twins tied the game, the Yankees grabbed the lead right back in the bottom half. It was classic older sibling-younger sibling stuff, the hard shove of assertiveness whenever the youngster started to get notions of grandeur.
These are almost completely different teams than the ones who played four times in the playoffs between 2003 and 2010, with the Yankees winning 12 of 14 games and all four series, but it was a very familiar feeling.
The Yankees have more firepower and more margin for error. They showed that by coming back with such ease. They showed that by trotting out hard thrower after hard thrower from the bullpen after starter Luis Severino was awful. (In retrospect, by the way, one game against the Yankees was no more of a bargain than a five-game series. Sure, anything could have happened. But with a day off before and a day off after Tuesday, New York never had to use a pitcher it didn’t trust. If the Twins would have knocked around Severino in Game 1 of a five-game series, the bullpen use might have looked different and the Twins might have been able to tack on more runs).
By the sixth inning, it was 7-4 and fans at the bar were left with two defining moments: One, a foul ball off the delicate midsection of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, which drew the loudest applause since the first inning. Yes, a Yankees player getting hit in the crotch was the best thing that happened in five innings.
That was followed quickly by a deep fly ball to left by Joe Mauer. ESPN unintentionally became part of the cruel lore of this lopsided rivalry, its cameras cutting away from left fielder Brett Gardner in such a manner that half the folks at Liquor Lyle’s thought it was a game-tying, three-run homer. The rest of us, who saw Gardner’s path and know how these things work, sized it up for what it was: a near-miss, a third out, a last real chance gone by.
At least Anthony was there to entertain several of us with some tricks involving coins and a five dollar bill. He made them disappear just as deftly as the Yankees made that lead disappear.
The bar crowd thinned out noticeably after Mauer’s warning track fly ball, and those of us still there started talking about the Timberwolves.
Yep, that’s the life of a Minnesota sports fan: turning the page from a fun season that had a disappointing ending at the hands of a familiar nemesis and finding hope in a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 years.