NEW YORK – Well, the Twins outhomered the Yankees. If only that was enough.
The formula that won 101 games during the regular season — bash the competition into submission with home runs, then let the bullpen finish them off — only works if both halves are operational. So while the instant offense provided by Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano was encouraging, it was insufficient to prevent the now-standard postseason outcome at Yankee Stadium: a deflating loss, 10-4 in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
It’s the Twins’ 14th consecutive postseason loss, setting a major league record for October futility, and their 11th in a row to New York. They’ll try again to break both streaks on Saturday, the 15th anniversary of their most recent win, a Johan Santana victory at the old Stadium across the street in 2004.
“I don’t think it was the streak, or the pressure, or the history,” said Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey. “We just had a bad game at the wrong time.”
Actually, it began like it was going to be a great game at the right time. Polanco, the second batter of the game, lined a James Paxton pitch into the left-field seats, and the bottom of the first ended with a tremendous scoop-and-throw to retire Giancarlo Stanton at first base, a play that, once replay umpires overruled Todd Tochenor’s mistaken safe call, prevented New York from immediately tying the score.
But already, it was apparent that the night would be more difficult than the Twins had hoped, because Jose Berrios was not in All-Star form. He needed 24 pitches to extract himself from first-inning jeopardy, and 24 more to retire the bottom of the Yankees’ order in the second.
“We were trying to get hdis breaking ball to start [as] a strike, and early on they weren’t swinging too much,” said catcher Mitch Garver. “Credit to them for taking good at-bats.”
In the third, having been handed another run to work with when Nelson Cruz popped a 339-foot home run into the short porch in right field, Berrios got into serious trouble. Two singles to lead off the inning turned into a run when Edwin Encarnacion lined a one-out fastball into the left-field corner, scoring DJ LeMahieu. A walk loaded the bases, but Berrios appeared to escape with no further damage when Gleyber Torres bounced a double-play ball at Sano. He got the lead out at second base, but Luis Arraez’s relay was low and first baseman C.J. Cron missed it, letting it scoot past, and instead of ending the inning, two unearned runs scored to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
“Saw the ball coming toward me. I just misread there and thought it was going to bounce a little bit further out in front,” Cron said of his error. “It kind of slipped under my glove. Just a bad read.”
Though the Twins rallied to tie the game on a Polanco single, Berrios was done after 88 pitches and four innings. Manager Rocco Baldelli chose to hand the game over to his bullpen. It made sense. It didn’t work.
The middle three innings, where the Twins had pinned their hopes on a bullpen that got better as the season went on, were disastrous: seven runs on four hits and five walks.
Zack Littell, making his postseason debut, was overwhelmed by the moment. The righthander walked Aaron Judge on five pitches, three of them in the dirt, but only after Judge slammed a tape-measure shot that hooked barely foul. He hit Brett Gardner with a pitch, ending his debut after only two batters.
“I didn’t trust my stuff,” Littell said. “It’s a good lineup, and they took good pitches. It made me think I had to make perfect pitches.”
Duffey relieved him and struck out Encarnacion but walked Giancarlo Stanton to load the bases, then left a 3-2 fastball to Torres over the plate. Torres turned it into a hot smash that Sano couldn’t handle, and two runs scored. Duffey wound up striking out three batters but screamed in frustration as he walked off the mound.
“I was upset. I gave up somebody else’s runs. I hate that. I hate that,” Duffey said. “I gave them back the lead. The rest of it doesn’t matter. “
Sano hit a pop fly 340 feet that cleared the right field wall by inches, his first postseason homer in his first postseason game, but the Yankees found their home-run stroke soon after that, too. LeMahieu launched a Cody Stashak pitch into the bullpen, Gardner followed by blasting one into the upper deck in right, and the game got away from the Twins. Kyle Gibson’s first postseason relief appearance didn’t go well, either; he walked the bases loaded, then surrendered a bases-clearing double to LeMahieu.
“Our guys have had outings here and there over the course of the year that didn’t go as planned, and they come right back,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Our team has bounced back exceptionally well all year long.”
They’ll need to do it again.