Nelson Cruz took the floor in the Twins’ clubhouse in Yankee Stadium following Saturday’s ugly Game 2 loss and verbalized a sentiment that may sound obvious but that the Twins said they needed to hear.
“Nellie just stood up and said, ‘Listen, guys, there’s no need to get down on ourselves, no need to give up or quit or look any differently at ourselves,’ ” veteran righthander Kyle Gibson said Monday, before the Twins were swept out of the American League Division Series with a 5-1 loss to the Yankees at Target Field. “ ‘We’re still a really good team, and we still have a chance to do this.’ ”
At 39, Cruz’s status as the Twins’ oldest player and the most experienced postseason player — he was the MVP of the AL Championship Series in 2011 with Texas — gave the message its power, Gibson said.
“When a guy like that speaks, everybody listens and perks their ears up and takes it in, because he’s been in a lot of different situations,” Gibson said. “Maybe some situations that have a lot more pressure than this one.”
Torii and Joe
Naturally, Torii Hunter was honored, he said, to be asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 on Monday. But what really excited the Twins Hall of Famer was the identity of his catcher.
“Joe Mauer is catching. That means I can throw it hard,” Hunter said with glee about an hour before the ceremonies began. “I can use my fastball.”
Sure enough, Hunter threw one of the hardest pitches you’re likely to see an honoree deliver, but that wasn’t the end of his plan. The former All-Star center fielder turned to the Twins dugout, pointed at the players, some of whom were once his teammates, and shouted, “Let’s gooooo!”
“I want to get them fired up. I want to make sure they’re ready,” Hunter said. “I want to hear it back. If they don’t give it back, I guess we’ll see you next year.”
That’s the sort of passion that made Hunter an easy choice for the pregame ritual, Twins President Dave St. Peter said.
“We thought it was a fun combination. At its heart, these things are about the fans, and who they’d want,” St. Peter said. “Torii is one of the most popular players in our history, so it made sense.”
It was only the second public appearance at Target Field this season for Mauer, the first coming when his No. 7 was retired in June.
“When he retired, Joe said he wanted to be a full-time dad, and he’s stayed true to that,” St. Peter said of the low-profile St. Paul native. “Joe snuck in a couple of times this season, but he stayed behind the scenes. He came to say hello when Brian Dozier was here [with the Nationals]. He came for Gardy’s [Tigers and ex-Twins manager Ron Gardenhire] trip here in September. Things like that.”
As assistant general manager for the Indians in 2016, Derek Falvey found it strange to be excluded from October meetings in Cleveland’s front office about potential offseason changes to the team’s roster.
“I had always been a part of that, but when we got to the ALCS and World Series, I was working with the team, with [planning for] the games we were playing right then,” said Falvey, who was also interviewing for the job of chief baseball officer of the Twins, which he now holds. “It was a reminder that even while you’re enjoying all of this [the postseason], the work goes on for the future.”
And so it does for Falvey’s current team, too.
“We started thinking about next year two months ago. Really, since right after the trade deadline,” he said. “A few guys in our [research and development] department, their primary focus right now is to start digging in on our potential targets — free agent targets, trade targets, minor league targets. We’ve started developing projections for various players and what our needs will be. So when the postseason is over, we’ll know what the holes are in our analysis and what we still need to do.”
A portion of the major league scouting staff has been traveling to watch potential free agents since August, Falvey said. With those reports filed, those scouts have fanned out to the various playoff sites, gathering data about every potential playoff opponent, just in case.
• The Twins were the first 100-win team to be swept in a Division Series and the first 100-win team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs since the Yankees lost three in a row to the Royals in the 1980 ALCS.
• Rookie Luis Arraez, whose ankle injury left him uncertain he would be able to play, had four doubles in the series.
• The Yankees are 235-164-1 in postseason games, 53-27 in playoff series and 13-8 in the ALDS.
• Gleyber Torres is the eighth Yankees player to have three extra-base hits in a playoff game. Babe Ruth is the only Yankees player to do it twice.
• The announced crowd of 41,121 was 11th largest in Target Field history.