A group of us gathered Tuesday for the Twins/Yankees game at Liquor Lyle's, a Minneapolis bar that has won my heart over the years for its diversity, people watching, economy-driven drink prices and upgraded televisions. You have a sense of place when you are there.
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.
There was the nervous anticipation pregame, complete with 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 you can only feel in the midst of a large group of friends and familiar strangers. 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 backward. 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.
When the Twins took a lead, the Yankees tied the score in the bottom half. When the Twins tied the score, 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 from 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.
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.
That was followed quickly by a deep fly ball to left field by Joe Mauer. ESPN unintentionally became part of the cruel lore of this lopsided rivalry, as its cameras cut away from left fielder Brett Gardner in such a manner that half of the folks in the bar 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, warning-track fly, a third out, and a last real chance gone by.
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.