Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver were seated next to one another and answering reporters’ questions on Tuesday afternoon at Target Field. The topic was the best-of-5 matchup with the Yankees, of course.
Cruz made a rather lengthy point that a key factor against the Yankees – and any October opponent – was to make the plays that have to be made, to not give away outs to these dangerous opponents.
It’s not just errors, it’s breaking correctly on a ball in the air, or turning a double play when it’s available.
Few people know the agony of giving away an out in October more than Cruz, now a 39-year-old designated hitter, but an outfielder in his earlier days. And in 2011, playing right field, Cruz had a chance to catch a fly ball for Texas that would have been the last out vs. St. Louis in Game 6 and given the Rangers a World Series title.
Cruz wasn’t playing deep enough, and he didn’t break quickly on a ball hit directly at him, and the ball went over Nelson’s head for a game-tying, two-run triple by David Freese.
Two innings later, Freese hit a game-winning home run, and the Cardinals then won Game 7 and the World Series, and Cruz became the Bill Buckner of Texas.
Well, he could have been that, if the sporting public in the Metroplex cared nearly as much about the Rangers as New England does about the Red Sox.
On Friday night, the 2019 Twins brought a pair of startling numbers into Game 1 against the Yankees in the Bronx:
This improbable, powerful team had a 55-26 record on the road, seven wins more than the next best in the majors. And as a franchise, they had a 13-game postseason losing streak, with 10 of those losses to the Yankees.
The second of those startling numbers came out on top in a landslide Friday, as Rocco’s Road Warriors turned into more Yankees fodder shipped in from Minnesota.
This 10-4 loss in Game 1 ranks high among the most-embarrassing in what’s now a 14-game losing streak, the longest such stretch of postseason futility in major league history.
Jorge Polanco homered in the first off James Paxton to make it 1-0 for the Twins, and then Cruz took a first-pitch fastball and swatted it into the short porch in right field to make it 2-0 in the third.
Jose Berrios had managed to crawl through two scoreless innings without the benefit of getting his breaking pitch close enough to the strike zone to tempt the Yankees to swing.
It should be noted here the Yankees are off the charts with their pitch recognition. Even Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t doing any chasing, and that's an upset.
The Twins had three players in the lineup that were coming back from injuries: Max Kepler in center, Marwin Gonzalez in left and Luis Arraez in second. Arraez was the surprise, since he had sprained an ankle last Saturday in Kansas City.
All this week, Baldelli was saying Arraez was a possibility and there he was when the Twins revealed the roster on Friday morning. Still, with the lefthanded Paxton starting for the Yankees, it seemed likely from a distance that the righthanded Jonathan Schoop would get the start at second base.
Nope. Baldelli and his brain trust went with Arraez, batting ninth, and Schoop sitting. It was a decision that led to those dangerous extra outs over which Cruz was expounding three days earlier.
After two hard innings, Berrios was able to get D.J. LaMahieu, the terrific leadoff hitter, to hit a little pop behind second base to open the third. Easy out, except Arraez couldn’t get there, either because the ankle had him moving at 80 percent speed, or because it was a bad read.
Right then, veteran Twins followers back in Minnesota, watching and listening on MLB Network as Bob Costas provided some play-by-play mixed in with his carping about the historic numbers of MLB home runs in 2019 …
Well, there was a feeling this was an out that the high-strung Berrios badly needed to have a comfortable inning and hold the lead.
Sure enough, Aaron Judge immediately lined a single, and the rally was on, and then capped with what should have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, it became a two-run error and a 3-2 lead for the Yankees.
Arraez did not make a good throw as the pivot man at second, and first baseman C.J. Cron then butchered the low throw for the error, and there it was:
The Twins, a lousy fielding team, No. 13 in the American League and No. 25 among 30 teams in the majors in raw fielding percentage, had given the Yankees two extra outs and three runs (two officially unearned, but all gifts).
Arraez did wind up hitting a double and scoring a tying run, but then Baldelli decided to go to the bullpen with a 3-3 tie entering the bottom of the fifth, and it went like this:
Zack Littell had a case of nerves, and Tyler Duffey gave up a sizzling double to Gleyber Torres, and Cody Stashak had no chance, and Kyle Gibson was at his nibbling worst, and the Yankees pulled away to the 10-4 win in a sprightly 4 hours, 15 minutes.
Those 101 wins in the regular season, those 55 wins on the road, those 307 home runs that edged the Yankees by one for the all-time record … that all disappeared in the unsightliness that started in the bottom of the third and lasted deep into the night.
Let's face it:
That wasn’t fatalism for many Twins followers to assume defeat was in the offing as soon as Arraez let that pop up drop to open the Yankees’ third. It was the wisdom that comes with experience.