Allergic to pinstripes and lost in October, the Minnesota Twins were during the playoffs what they so rarely were all season: a remarkably easy out.
They set an all-time record for home runs over 162 games, then tied a dubious playoff record.
They braced for a slugfest of a playoff with the New York Yankees but didn’t give themselves even a puncher’s chance, getting outscored by a combined 23-7.
Between Miguel Sano’s sixth-inning home run in the opener and Eddie Rosario’s last-gasp blast in the eighth inning on Monday night, the Twins went 19 innings between home runs, and hit none with men on base.
The Twins’ 5-1 playoff-ending loss at Target Field gave them 16 straight postseason losses, tying a record for major American sports set by the 1970s Chicago Blackhawks.
They have lost 13 straight to the Yankees, and 11 straight at home in the playoffs.
Their last three losses proved that what the Twins built this year was closer to scaffolding than trophy case.
“They pitched better than us, they swung the bat better than us, and they defended better than us,’’ Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s how it played out. You get one opportunity to go out and play the games. The Yankees had a plan, they carried it out.’’
The Twins’ performance was simultaneously evocative of recent Twins history and contradictory to the 2019 team’s nature, but the playoff failures are a shared history now, from old Yankee Stadium to new, from Metrodome to Target Field, from Everyday Eddie Guardado to Any Pitch Will Do Eddie Rosario.
Baldelli said his team was nothing other than “excited’’ about playing the Yankees, but there were signs of stress.
Second baseman Luis Arraez barely missing a popup and C.J. Cron missing a double-play relay in Game 1. The Twins flailing at the soft offerings of Masahiro Tanaka in Game 2. Twins left fielder Jake Cave diving 6 feet short of a line drive in Game 3, letting the ball bounce past him as he flailed.
Baseball does not reward hyperintensity. Former Twin Gary Gaetti once said, “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.’’ It’s also hard to hit while grinding the handle to pulp.
What Twins hitters will lament the most this winter is their inability to produce the kind of game-turning home runs that they produced with robotic regularity all summer.
With the Yankees leading 1-0 heading into the bottom of the second, Rosario tomahawked an eye-high pitch off the top of the wall in right for a double. Mitch Garver walked, Arraez singled to right, and third base coach Tony Diaz held Rosario at third because Yankee left fielder Giancarlo Stanton reached the ball quickly.
Bases loaded, nobody out, Sano at the plate. With the count full, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, he hit a skyrocketing popup for a harmless out. When Marwin Gonzalez and Cave struck out, the Twins had wasted their best chance.
But not their last chance. In the sixth, Arraez became the first rookie to hit four doubles in a Division Series. Sano crushed a line drive toward the wall in right but Aaron Judge leaped to snag it, saving a run, and then Gonzalez hit a high fly to nearly the same spot, watching it die in Judge’s glove on the warning track.
Gonzalez tossed his helmet high in the air at first base.
The Twins proved the value of home runs. Hit the ball far enough over the fence and Gleyber Torres, Judge or D.J. LeMahieu can’t rob you.
The Twins didn’t score multiple runs in an inning all series. In this year’s four Division Series, they were the only team to get swept.
“This is invaluable,’’ Baldelli said. “Playing in the playoffs … I’m going to take a lot out of it, and I hope our players do, too. I hope we are in this situation again next year.’’
But learning from playoff losses doesn’t seem to be the way this rivalry works.