NEW YORK – Things were supposed to be different this time. This Twins team set home run records. They seemed to have enough pitching.
They seemed ready to take it to the Yankees after going 2-13 against them in postseason games entering this American League Division Series.
But they departed from the Big Apple on Saturday night — retreated probably is a better word — aching from two bad losses and questioning their identity. The Twins’ 8-2 loss to the Yankees on Saturday sent them back to Target Field one game away from elimination and an abrupt end to a 101-win season.
“We’re going to have to revisit some things,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “Just getting back to who were are is more important than trying to do something different.”
Didi Gregorius’ grand slam highlighted a seven-run third inning for New York, which cruised to the victory from there in front of an announced 49,227 at Yankee Stadium.
“Definitely, they have played better than us,” designated hitter Nelson Cruz said.
After their latest Bronx beatdown, the Twins extended their major league record to 15 consecutive postseason losses, with 12 of those coming to the Yankees. New York is 15-2 against the Twins in the postseason, all since 2003.
A team that said it didn’t care about the playoff history with the Yankees is close to blending the past and present. Saturday’s loss came on the 15th anniversary of the Twins’ most recent postseason victory, a 2-0 victory in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS at the old Yankee Stadium.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said he will rely on how his team has responded to skids this year to turn things around in Game 3.
“I don’t think becoming reactionary in any way — staff-wise, roster-wise — is going to help us where we want to be,” Baldelli said. “Relying on who we are is going to get us where we want to be.”
But the reliable Twins bullpen, a big part of their identity down the stretch this season, has been bludgeoned in the first two games.
Tyler Duffey was angry at himself for his performance in Friday’s 10-4 loss to the Yankees, but his opportunity for redemption Saturday went downhill in a hurry.
Twins starter Randy Dobnak, who went from an Uber-driving Class A pitcher at the start of 2019 to starting an important playoff game at a historic stadium, gave up a first-inning run, then loaded the bases with one out in the third. Baldelli called for Duffey, who had thrown 25 pitches the night before. The righthander got ahead 1-2 in the count to Giancarlo Stanton, but the slugger lifted a sacrifice fly to double the New York lead to 2-0.
There was still time to limit the damage. Duffey got ahead 0-2 on Gleyber Torres but gave up an RBI single. Then he got ahead 0-2 on Gary Sanchez only to plunk the burly catcher on the arm, reloading the bases.
Gregorius stepped to the plate. Again, Duffey got ahead 0-2 before Gregorius took a ball and fouled off a pitch. The next pitch was a 94 mph fastball that was just above the strike zone but sliced the plate in half.
Gregorius loves fastballs, but he struck out against Duffey on a high fastball Friday. “I was ready for it this time,” Gregorius said.
This time, the shortstop belted it down the right field line and inside the foul pole for the 12th grand slam in Yankees postseason history.
“It’s big-league hitters in an environment that’s pretty hitter-friendly,” said Duffey, who held hitters to an .074 batting average after an 0-2 count during the regular season. ”Mistakes are magnified in games like this. You have to win every game possible. If you’re going to miss, bad things are going to happen.”
Four batters later, Brett Gardner added an RBI single to cap a seven-run inning and give the Yankees an eight-run lead. It was the fourth time the Twins have given up seven runs in an inning in postseason play, the most since the Angels scored 10 runs against them to knock them out of the ALCS on Oct. 13, 2002.
Masahiro Tanaka pitched five excellent innings, and the Yankees had four relievers pitch an inning each; the five pitchers combined to strike out 14 Twins. Garver had an RBI single and Luis Arraez a run-scoring double, but the Twins have hit only .197 in the series.
In 10 innings, their bullpen has given up 12 runs over 10 innings while walking 11 and hitting two.
It’s time for an identity check.
“We haven’t been able to do it,” Cruz said. “It’s a good thing we go home. We will have a good chance to prove who we are as a team.”