NEW YORK – The Twins aren’t acting like a team whose season is slipping away. Off the field, at least.
Players smiled and cracked jokes as they dressed and prepared to head for Baltimore, where they need to rebound after a three-game nightmare in the Bronx. New York finished off the Twins on Wednesday with a 4-3 victory to sweep the series.
The Twins are tumbling down the AL wild-card standings, having lost 11 of their past 16 games. They are 2-13 over their past 15 road games, a foreboding stat as they prepare to visit Baltimore for four games and Tampa Bay for three, two teams in their way for the final wild-card spot.
During their three-day stay in New York they lost closer Glen Perkins for several days and outfielder Aaron Hicks for two weeks to injuries. The bullpen can’t protect a lead. Rookie Miguel Sano is the most dangerous hitter on the team. Maybe Sano will get help from fellow rookie Byron Buxton, summoned from the minors immediately after the game to replace Hicks.
This appeared to be a playoff team — wild card, at least — at the All-Star break. Now? The Twins led every game against the Yankees and blew them all. The walk-off loss on a groundout Monday led to stunned silence in the clubhouse. The grand slam Alex Rodriguez leveled on them Tuesday led to more bewilderment.
After Wednesday’s loss, Torii Hunter playfully cursed Abner Doubleday for inventing the game, and players were relaxed as they headed to the airport. They can only hope that there’s healing in laughter.
There are 42 games to go, plenty of time, players say, to get hot.
“It stinks,” infielder Trevor Plouffe said of the Yankee series. “I thought we played well enough to win these games. But they are a good team and this is a tough place to come in and win. We did not get the result we want, but it’s August 19th and we are four [3 ½] games back and we’re playing teams that are in front of us. We are still pretty confident in what we can do here.”
The Twins needed righthander Ervin Santana to be the stopper Wednesday, but he failed to deliver, serving up a pair of two-run homers to rookie Greg Bird, who was playing in his fifth major league game. The first home run, off a hanging changeup, opened the scoring.
Yankees righthander Nathan Eovaldi retired the first 16 Twins, but they responded with three runs in the sixth, two coming on Joe Mauer’s two-out single, to take a 3-2 lead.
It didn’t last long, because Bird hit a Santana fastball over the center field wall in the bottom of the sixth for his second two-run homer. The Twins never were heard from again.
“To me there was only one bad pitch,” Santana said. “That was the changeup. The other was a very good pitch, low and away. He just hit it very good. I know in another park it’s a double. Here, it’s a joke.”
Every time the Twins scored multiple runs in an inning, the Yankees responded with runs in the bottom of that inning. Both of Bird’s home runs were with two outs. Those are deflating moments that can be a signal that it’s not the Twins’ year.
“We have the lead and we give it up late,” Hunter said. “All we can do is keep fighting through this thing. It seems like that experience keeps grabbing us. We have a great group of guys, a young group of guys. Once they put it all together they will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Can they put something together in time to salvage an important road trip?
“We wanted to come in and make a statement and win some games on the road because we haven’t done that,” Plouffe said. “So it hasn’t started off the way we planned. But we played well enough to still be confident going into Baltimore.’’