Aside from Alex Rodriguez’s home-run trot, the new New York Yankees don’t look much like the Sultans of Smackdown who embarrassed the Twins in the 2000s.
Derek Jeter has graduated from part-time supermodel escort to full-time supermodel escort. Mariano Rivera retired. CC Sabathia is a shadow of his former self even if his current self still casts a humongous shadow.
That the Yankees offered 15 innings of dominance to end their series against an almost completely new and vastly improved Twins team lends credence to belief in the mystical side of sports. Curses. Momentum. Ingrained memories.
Saturday evening, the Twins were coming off a 10-1 victory over the Yankees and held a 5-0 lead. For the rest of the series they were outscored 15-2. They got teased, then slapped. It was just like old times.
For while the Twins have been falling under the Yankees’ wheels for 14 years, they also have made a habit of squandering advantages.
The baby Twins of 2001 took four of six against the Yankees, acting too brash to care about payroll or market sizes.
They won the first game of the 2003 ALDS in New York. They won the first game of the 2004 ALDS in New York. Each time, they had a chance to win Game 2, and didn’t, and wound up losing in four games.
It’s the close losses that haunt, because everyone who took the field can ask whether they could have done something to alter the outcome. Those losses ushered in more than a decade of abject failure against the Yankees that was revisited this weekend.
The Twins are 5-16 against the Yankees in Target Field. They have not won a season series against the Yankees since 2001. They are 2-12 against the Yankees in the playoffs. They were 26-64 against the Yankees under Ron Gardenhire.
Now a team that has proved itself so different from its four, losing, predecessors, has something in common with every Twins team since 2001:
“It’s frustrating, the fact that halfway during the game yesterday I’m sitting there thinking, we’ve got a chance to sweep them in the series,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “Then we lose the series. We didn’t play very well today.”
Dozier and Torii Hunter noted that few current Twins were part of the series that cemented the abusive relationship between the teams.
Hunter, looking grim, said: “I don’t like … well, that’s the past. I don’t remember. That’s got nothing to do with today. We played them well, but the veteran team they are they come back and score six in one inning. They take advantage of all of your mistakes. That’s what they do.
“When I was with the Angels we beat the Yankees. When I was with the Tigers we beat them. It’s got nothing to do with anything.”
Hunter then asked, “Am I right?”
Logically, yes. But the Twins’ history against the Yankees is not about logic. It’s about matchups, and perhaps emotion, and the way that a bad memory can taint the present.
It might be just a series loss in a sport in which series losses are inevitable, but it was also cautionary.
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan hinted strongly that the Twins will make a trade to bolster their bullpen. Maybe they’ll even land a shortstop, with Danny Santana performing erratically. They could trade Oswaldo Arcia without disrupting their current outfield or their long-term plans.
But they’re unlikely to add someone like Johnny Cueto, who went to the Royals on Sunday, or David Price, who may wind up with the Yankees.
The Royals just became much scarier, and the Yankees will probably follow suit.
Even if you want to believe that the current Twins have no tangible connection to previous failures against the Yankees, this weekend was a reminder that the Twins require much more than convenient amnesia to change their history against New York and that they might need to revisit their least-favorite portion of franchise history this fall in the Bronx.
In August. And perhaps in October.
“I guess,” Dozier said with a smile, “we’ll have to sweep ’em there.”