NEW YORK – Rocco Baldelli, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron and Marwin Gonzalez have not been around for all the Twins’ torturous losses to the Yankees through the years. They have been busy being successful and productive elsewhere, and their expertise has been on display on game-by-game basis.
The Twins have fired out to a 20-11 start, the best record in baseball. So it’s natural to consider the possibility that this thing is real. You look for seminal moments, pick apart quotes, interpret body language, ask your neighbors.
On Saturday, you didn’t have to look too hard for signs. As this group of newcomers, in various ways, helped the Twins end a run of futility at Yankee Stadium with a 7-3 victory.
Cron and Cruz hit home runs. Schoop, who was robbed of a three-run homer in the fourth inning, added a run-scoring single in the eighth to respond to a New York rally the inning before. Gonzalez, off to a slow start at the plate, had his third hit of the series as his average inches toward .200.
The Twins built a 5-0 lead Saturday and kept adding runs, shaking off the Yankees’ two-run seventh inning, until the bullpen locked down the victory. The Twins have now won seven of their past nine games.
And it validated everything Baldelli said before and after the game — that his team knows how to shake off losses, even in Yankee Stadium. That’s a trait recent Twins teams haven’t had.
“When you have experienced, veteran players, I think you can feel good about how they’re going to react when they step in in a place like this or play against a good team or react to any situation,” said Baldelli, the first-year Twins manager. “They definitely have been through it before and they’ve performed in these situations before.”
The Twins were just as composed Saturday while discussing their victory as they were Friday after they committed two errors and failed to cash in on big scoring opportunities during a 6-3 loss.
That’s one thing that stands out about this team. The Twins know they are good, and they know they can swing the sticks. Schoop said the first five weeks have confirmed everything he believed in the team coming out of spring training.
“So far,” he said. “We got a lot more work to do. When the weather gets hot a little, everyone is going to settle in. This team is winning. If you’re winning, you’re doing something. We’ve got to keep doing what we do good so we can keep it up.”
Could they use a couple more arms? Absolutely, and Twins scouts have begun assembling a list of trade targets in June and July to deal with that.
But they aren’t letting any shortcomings get in their way right now. They are stacking hits and stacking wins.
“It’s funny,” said reliever Blake Parker, who gave up a 444-foot homer to Gary Sanchez in the eighth inning Saturday but got through 1⅓ innings. “We were talking about it the other day after we beat the Astros. We came in and thought it was just like another day at the office.
“Normally, if you beat the Astros and go 6-1 on the homestand, you’re feeling pretty good. It’s interesting that we are just going about our business like we kind of expected it. And I like that vibe as a team.”
Mention the Twins’ history in the Big Apple to Cruz and Co., and you will get the stone face. Baldelli didn’t seem too thrilled about being linked to a past he had no part of.
The team’s struggles here occurred during the Ron Gardenhire and Paul Molitor administrations. It goes farther back than the eight-game regular-season losing streak — and 13 losses in 14 games here — that the Twins just ended.
It goes back to winning the first game of both the 2003 and 2004 American League Division Series at the old Yankee Stadium, then losing the next three games. It includes Phil Cuzzi calling Joe Mauer’s double a foul ball in the 2009 ALDS. It includes losing five consecutive playoff games in the Bronx.
It has a fan base fixated on winning in New York. And the Twins have a chance to win the three-game series Sunday with another victory.
One good weekend in May, honestly, doesn’t mean the Twins have finally figured out the Yankees. But responding after a poorly played game on the road is the latest example that this thing is real and that the Twins can make it difficult for Cleveland to win a fourth consecutive AL Central title.
Then the Yankees question could be answered in October.
“We’re thinking playoffs,” Cruz said. “That’s the goal. Definitely this is the place. Typically, it’s a playoff atmosphere. It’s definitely nice to get the win. I think it’s more special, yeah?”