NEW YORK – The Twins got the glorious postseason experience they dreamed of on Tuesday night, and it was a wonder to behold. Rise-to-the-moment accomplishments, jubilant celebrations, an All-Star pitcher embarrassed and a boisterous, hostile New York crowd silenced.
They’ll always treasure those 12 incredible minutes.
Reality intruded quickly, however, and the Yankees asserted the dominance they routinely do against the Twins in October. New York, now 13-2 in the postseason against Minnesota, rudely reminded Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios that they might be the Twins’ best pitchers but neither one has ever won in this ballpark. The Yankees chased Santana after two stressful innings and scored in each of the first four to roll to an 8-4 victory in the winner-take-all AL wild-card game.
Minnesota has now lost 13 consecutive playoff games — 10 of them to the Yankees — a streak of failure dating back to 2004.
“I don’t think there’s an explanation for it,” said Joe Mauer, who has played in every game of the streak, which is tied with the Red Sox (1986-95) for longest in postseason history. “We’re a lot better than that.”
Sure looked like it for a while on Tuesday. Brian Dozier opened the game with his shock-the-starter specialty, rocketing a home run near the Twins’ bullpen to set off a party in the visitor’s dugout. When Eddie Rosario, with Jorge Polanco standing on first base, lined a 1-1 slider from Luis Severino just over the right field wall, the Twins were delirious with excitement. And when Eduardo Escobar followed with a single, and Max Kepler a double, Severino was suddenly exiled, leaving to a cascade of boos.
“It was electric in the dugout. It was amazing,” Dozier said of homering in his first career postseason at-bat. “There’s no better feeling when you come into an opposing park — so energetic, so crazy, and then nothing. We shut them up.”
It got loud again real fast, though. Chad Green struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to restore the energy to the stadium, and the Yankees allowed their offense and their bullpen to do the rest. David Robertson recorded a career-high 10 outs to stifle the Twins through the middle innings as New York built its lead, and Aroldis Chapman struck out three Twins in the ninth to serve up an anticlimactic end to Minnesota’s mostly successful season.
The Twins, a team built around budding stars Miguel Sano and Buxton, lost the former in the morning, left off the roster, and the latter four innings in. Buxton crashed into the center field wall to reel in a Todd Frazier blast, a highlight play that came with an unhappy encore: upper-back tightness that forced the Twins to remove him.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Buxton said. “Not being able to go out there, it feels like — I’m not going to say letting down the team, but I wanted so bad to be out there.”
Perhaps losing their brightest young stars would not have mattered had Santana lived up to his tongue-in-cheek Monday boast about making the Twins’ first playoff appearance in seven years his own first victory in new Yankee Stadium in seven career starts. But this was not the Santana the Twins have ridden this season, the ace they had lined up for this start since late August.
A walk to Brett Gardner and a single by Aaron Judge in the first set up Derek Jeter’s successor, Didi Gregorius, for some Jeter-style postseason heroics, and he seized the opportunity. A 3-2 fastball got too much of the plate, and Gregorius punished it into the right-center seats, turning the Twins’ stunning 3-0 lead into a tie game.
“The exhilaration of jumping out on top, and then the deflation of giving it back — there was a lot [of emotion] spent early,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
An inning later, after retiring the first two Yankee batters thanks to Buxton’s sensational catch, Santana buzzed Gardner with a shoulder-high inside fastball. Gardner got his revenge with the next pitch, curling it just inside the foul pole in right to put the Yankees ahead.
Berrios was only marginally better, giving up a double to the first batter he faced, Gary Sanchez, and a two-out RBI single to Greg Bird. And in the fourth inning, Judge — the rookie whose 52 homers make him a strong candidate for MVP — slugged a long fly ball to left that carried into the seats, a two-run shot.
Minnesota tried to rally, loading the bases in the third inning and scoring a run when Buxton outran a double-play relay. And Joe Mauer batted as the tying run in the sixth inning with two outs and two runners on base. He lifted a fly ball deep into the inviting 316-foot left-field corner, but it fell perhaps a dozen feet short of the seats.
“I thought I got it,” Mauer said. “Then it just seemed to stop. And it came up short.”
Just like the Twins, yet again.