New York – In a span of 26 hours, the Twins went from belittling concerns about their history against the Yankees to inflaming them. The Bomba Squad saw pinstripes and turned into the Slumber Squad.
“I think we were a little timid, especially at the plate,” Twins first baseman C.J. Cron said. “I think we weren’t as aggressive as we usually are.”
The Rally Squirrel, that jittery little scavenger, was supposed to be a gimmick, not a playoff role model.
“I mean, you could see that the pitchers were super comfortable out there, we didn’t put any second thoughts in their head, they did whatever they wanted to do both games,” Cron said.
In two lopsided losses in the Bronx, the Twins lost by a combined score of 18-6, and in their 8-2 loss on Saturday at Yankee Stadium in Game 2, they were hardly competitive. Their lineup, statistically superior to the Yankees’ during the regular season, folded under pressure.
“I just didn’t think we were committed all the way around,’’ Cron said. “We were timid. We wanted to swing, but we weren’t swinging with the same aggression we have all year.’’
These Twins spoke all week about the irrelevance of the past. Now they’re in danger of making dubious history.
The longest postseason losing streak in the four North American professional sports is 16, by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1970s.
If the Twins lose to the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS on Monday at Target Field, they will tie that record, and while the current version of the team bears little resemblance to the 2004 team that started the losing streak, history will bind these teams like a sepia-toned scrapbook.
After taking a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the third inning of Game 1, the Twins were outscored 18-4 over the next 15 innings. Only Devin Smeltzer’s sterling relief pitching kept the Game 2 loss from becoming the kind of embarrassment that might usher in a new mercy rule in Major League Baseball.
After Miguel Sano’s home run leading off the sixth inning of Game 1, the Twins went 10 ⅓ innings between extra-base hits, before Luis Arraez’s double in the seventh on Saturday.
Their only RBI hit during that time was an opposite-field grounder. “We’re going to have to revisit some things,’’ catcher Mitch Garver said. “Getting back to who we are is more important than trying to do something different. … It seems like we’re swinging at a lot of balls and taking a lot of strikes.’’
What has to disappoint the Twins’ brain trust is that their record-setting hitters failed against the Yankees’ bullpen in Game 1 and against Masahiro Tanaka in Game 2.
Tanaka finished the season with a 4.45 ERA. If you are the greatest home run-hitting team in baseball history, you should be able to manage Tanaka’s slop.
A series decided by two lineups beating up less-than-great pitching would have given the Twins a chance. Instead, the Twins’ hitters shrunk on what everyone likes to call the grand stage of Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees are always good. They are rarely unbeatable. They’ve won one World Series since 2000.
The Twins believed they could win with an unconventional approach to pitching. Turns out they would have been better off thinking traditionally. Jose Berrios should have pitched more than four innings in Game 1, and Jake Odorizzi would have been a better choice to start Game 2 than Randy Dobnak.
Odorizzi has a career ERA of 5.40 at Yankee Stadium, but now Dobnak has a career ERA of 18.00 at Yankee Stadium.
The identity of the Twins’ starter would have mattered more if the lineup had produced.
“I don’t think we put enough pressure on their starting pitchers early enough,’’ Cron said. “Sometimes that just happens. Hopefully we can swing more aggressively and have the kind of at-bats we’re used to having. I’m pretty confident we can figure that out.’’
Home awaits. So does the wrong kind of history.