Nearly seven months have passed since the Twins last set foot in Yankee Stadium, and it sometimes seems like they’re still processing their feelings about that night.
“It’s an unhappy memory, but it still represented something important, and we can’t forget that,” Brian Dozier said last month about the Twins’ 8-4 loss to the Yankees in the 2017 AL wild-card game. “It still hurts that we lost, especially after jumping on them [with three first-inning runs] like we did. It’s just one game, though. It would have been nice, it would have been fantastic, to win it, but that doesn’t diminish what we accomplished” by qualifying for their first playoff appearance in seven years.
“The opportunity that game provides is the real reward for a season of hard work, and it’s up to you to take advantage of it,” manager Paul Molitor said. “Advancing further would have augmented that reward. As we head into this season, it’s the next step.”
The clubhouse vibe after New York abruptly ended Minnesota’s season was similarly upbeat, a mixture of pride and anticipation for 2018 and beyond. Molitor thanked his players for their turnaround season, and the somber silence that frequently accompanies playoff losses was absent.
“It feels like we’re just getting started, doesn’t it?” Dozier said that night. “You look around this room, how many guys are going to keep getting better? Their best seasons haven’t happened yet, and we’re already a playoff team.”
Funny thing, though — the Yankees felt exactly the same. Having largely ridden the youthful energy and raw talent provided by Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Luis Severino, among others, New York’s four-year decline — one playoff game from 2013-16, their worst stretch since the pre-Derek Jeter days — appears over. They rode their wild-card win over the Twins to an ALDS victory over Cleveland and came within one victory in Houston from returning to the World Series.
So the Twins know how close they came.
“You win a big game like that, who knows how big a boost that gives you?” said Joe Mauer, who hit a blast near the left-field corner during the wild-card game that came a few feet short of a game-tying three-run homer. “Momentum is a funny thing.”
Yet while the Twins made virtually no adjustments to the lineup they used in Yankee Stadium last October — the only starting position player not on the current roster is Jorge Polanco, sidelined by a steroid suspension, and the only pitcher used in that game who has since departed is former closer Matt Belisle — the Yankees chose to make some major adjustments.
They opened third base by trading Chase Headley to San Diego and allowing Todd Frazier to walk away. They tried to find a taker for outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, only stopping when he went on the disabled list because of an ever-changing set of injuries. They dealt a few prospects to Arizona for infielder Brandon Drury. Most notably: They traded second baseman Starling Castro to Miami for the NL Most Valuable Player, Giancarlo Stanton.
Four weeks into their makeover, things haven’t gone as planned. Bird needed ankle surgery and is still a few weeks away. Drury revealed late in the spring that he has been afflicted by migraines and double vision. He, too, has been sidelined for weeks. And Stanton isn’t hitting yet. In addition to smacking just three homers while his batting average dips above and below .200, Stanton struck out 29 times in his first 79 plate appearances, including a pair of five-whiff games.
It hasn’t been an easy start for new manager Aaron Boone, hired to replace Joe Girardi despite no coaching experience. At just 9-8 entering the weekend, public opinion is already clamoring for the addition of infielder Gleyber Torres, a top prospect.
Brian Cashman has a different idea. Asked about Torres’ status last week, the longtime general manager summed it up succinctly. “The guys we have here,” Cashman said, “just need to play better.”
The worst April for baseball weather in decades is nearly over, but AL Central teams will be feeling the effects well into the season. A look at the newly scrambled schedules:
Indians: They avoided much of the worst by opening the season with a week on the West Coast but still were rained out of a pair of home games against Toronto last weekend. An off day will be sacrificed May 3 to make up both games, but the April effect is light.
Royals: As if two home games and another in Detroit being postponed by weather wasn’t bad enough, the Royals actually endured a postponement inside a dome, too, when falling ice damaged the Rogers Centre’s roof. The result: Three staff-scrambling doubleheaders in 12 days, and a travel day turned into a one-game homestand in June.
Tigers: Sentenced to nothing but outdoor games, none south of Pittsburgh, for the first four weeks, they’ve had nothing but cold and plenty of disruption: Only four of their first nine home games were played as originally scheduled. Detroit already has played two home doubleheaders, with another set for June.
White Sox: Though the Cubs have already been idled by snow or rain five times, the White Sox somehow have managed to avoid a single postponement in Chicago. On the road, though? A 20-degree day in Kansas City and three days of Minneapolis blizzard mean they have makeups scheduled in four different months already.
Eddie Rosario didn’t hit a home run in San Juan like fellow Puerto Rican Francisco Lindor did last week, but he’s already among the greatest Puerto Rican home-run hitters the Twins have ever employed.
Most career HRs by Twin born in Puerto Rico
61 — Pedro Munoz (1990-95)
52 — Eddie Rosario (2015-18)
35 — Kennys Vargas (2014-17)
26 — Vic Power (1962-64)
8 — Bombo Rivera (1978-80)
8 — Javier Valentin (1997-2002)
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The Twins entered the weekend with nine stolen bases as a team, and nobody had yet been thrown out. That’s nearly halfway to the MLB record, one that the 2007 Twins came within one steal of equaling.
Most consecutive steals to start a season
20 — 2006 Orioles (25 games)
19 — 2007 Twins (17 games)
19 — 1987 Cubs (13 games)
17 — 2015 Reds (15 games)
17 — 2006 Padres (19 games)
Baseball reporters Phil Miller and La Velle E. Neal III will alternate weeks. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins