NEW YORK – While paranoid fans fret about history, the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees are prepared to play a series that will epitomize modern baseball.
There shouldn’t be a ceremonial first pitch before Game 1. There should be a weigh-in.
Starting Friday night, the Bomba Squad will face the Bronx Bombers in a pitcher-punishing playoff series, and two young, open-minded managers will use relievers the way plumbers use putty. The phrase “pitching change” is about to become redundant.
Never before have two 100-win teams met in baseball’s playoffs while wielding so much power and so little pitching certainty. After his 42nd trip to the mound, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli might get an endorsement deal with FitBit.
This series might look like nothing we have ever seen before, while being played in one of the most familiar prosceniums in sports. The Yankees have set a traditional rotation for the first three games but promise to rely heavily on their bullpen. The Twins have named a starter only for Game 1, and have contingency plans for how they will use their theoretical second starter, Jake Odorizzi.
The Twins could use an opener. They could pull a starter early so he is available later in the series. They could use two “bullpen games,” meaning relievers will start and finish the game.
A dozen Twins pitchers will try to survive a frightening lineup in an atmosphere unlike any other. I’ve been covering postseason games in one Yankee Stadium or another since 1995. There are louder places. There are better ballparks. There is nothing like the mystical aura surrounding a big game at what locals call “the Stadium,” in a city that believes it is the center of the universe.
“First thing that comes to mind is electric,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. “But that doesn’t even define it. Just from the pregame on you can feel it. It’s a little brisk here. The weather is cooling off. All of a sudden, you’re lining up for the national anthem and you look out into the stands and you can’t even hear the last half of the anthem because the fans start getting crazy and loud.
“You feel like you’re floating out there when you’re warming up and stretching. I honestly don’t even know how to describe it. Man, I feel like some of the ghosts from Yankees past are here with us whenever that stadium gets rocking. That’s why I can’t wait for the game. I can’t wait.”
News conferences can be stultifying, but both teams took to a podium Thursday in the basement of the Stadium and echoed Judge’s excitement. The players can’t wait. The general managers can.
Twins GM Thad Levine said he is evaluating so many injuries that the team won’t submit its playoff roster until checking with players Friday morning to see how they feel.
Second baseman Luis Arraez worked out on the field Thursday and left wearing “a smile,” Levine said. Outfielder Max Kepler said “I’m not going to tell you I’m 110 percent” but that he feels he can play. Utility players Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza are both being evaluated, with Gonzalez expected to start in right field.
“We’re not trying to be manipulative or coy,” Levine said. “We really don’t know what our roster is going to be yet.”
Levine hinted that the Twins might carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers, rather than vice versa, so they can carry banged-up position players on the roster and have insurance against them being hurt again.
“I can tell you, as a sneak peak, we’re not going to play it safe at every turn and then leave some of our best players off and find ourselves in need of those best players to win a baseball game,” Levine said.
The two most prolific home run-hitting teams in baseball history will meet in the descendant of the Other House That Ruth Built. This should be excruciating fun.
“This is the moment,” Twins slugger Miguel Sano said. “We’re the Bomba Squad. Let’s do it.”