MINNEAPOLIS -- This wasn’t one of those same Minnesota Twins teams of old. You’re reminded of that every second at Target Field, where the new “BOMBA SZN” slogan is stamped in bold, block-like gold lettering everywhere around the ballpark -- the left-field corner, the right-field wall, the bottom-right corner of the scoreboard.
Different Twins team, familiar ending.
On Monday, there was only one bomba to be found -- and nary a big hit -- in any one of several situations that might have kept the Twins’ magical 2019 season alive beyond a crisp October night in Minneapolis. While playoff baseball finally returned to the Twin Cities for the first time in nearly a decade, it was a short-lived stay, as Minnesota’s postseason came to an end with a 5-1 loss at Target Field and a sweep by the Yankees in the American League Division Series.
“You don't really want to end a season like this, especially not even winning a game,” C.J. Cron said. “It doesn't feel reflective of what we did this season. It doesn't feel fair. Nothing's fair, but it's just one of those things where we're going to, kind of, hopefully, obviously, take this offseason to kind of get our heads back on straight. We're hungry.”
With that, the thrills of the Twins’ unexpected 2019 season -- the year of the record-breaking 307 homers and the second 101-win campaign in franchise history -- came to an inglorious end at the hands of their historic nemesis with a 16th straight loss in October and a 13th consecutive defeat to New York on baseball’s biggest stage, both Major League records.
The Yankees have now escorted the Twins out of the postseason in six of Minnesota’s last seven trips.
But the difficult ending shouldn’t put a damper on the historic show that these Twins put on for a playoff-starved Minnesota fanbase from March to September, nor should it discount the way these Twins fought for their playoff lives in Game 3.
“It was a great year,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I got to be a part of something that I consider very special, and I think we have a very unique, special group of people. We got a chance to watch some players reach new heights in their careers. We got a chance to go out there. We won 101 games. It was a group that meshed and came together exceptionally well.”
It’s just that the baseball gods seemingly had no interest in intervening on Minnesota’s behalf on Monday night.
Never mind that the Twins had four of the five hardest-hit balls of the night, or that they had seven of the 10 batted balls with the highest expected batting averages in the game. Never mind that Jake Odorizzi brought his best for five strong innings, holding the Bronx Bombers to two runs in what may have been his final start for the Twins.
Gleyber Torres’ deep fly ball barely cleared the left-field wall for a homer in the second inning, while Marwin Gonzalez’s towering drive with the potential to tie the game died at the right-field warning track. Brett Gardner’s weak grounder down the third-base line got through a shifted infield for an RBI single, while Miguel Sanó’s screaming liner to right with a man on second found the glove of a leaping Aaron Judge.
"We hit the ball hard tonight,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “We went down playing our game. We really did. We hit the ball hard. But that's as good as a defense as you can ask for.”
The Twins, who were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, finally found a punch in the eighth inning with a solo homer from Eddie Rosario. But the Yankees punched back with Cameron Maybin’s blast and Didi Gregorius’ RBI single in the top of the ninth, dealing more key blows at the right time -- just the punches that Minnesota lacked for three games.
"I don't know if I can say we're frustrated,” Nelson Cruz said. “That's just the way it played. If you asked everybody here, we're going to get the hit and everybody wants to get the hit. Sometimes, it doesn't work."
That’s the thing: Beyond some understandable frustration at ending the season on such a sour note, the overall mood in the Twins’ clubhouse was also one of optimism and anticipation for next season due to not only the results of the 2019 campaign, but also the positives in how they got there.
These Twins were expected by most around the country to be the second class of the American League Central, still one step away from contending with the Indians for the division crown.
Instead, they raced off to a roaring start, established their bombastic identity on the field early in the season, held off a furious charge from Cleveland to consolidate their grip on first place and ultimately did bring playoff baseball back to Minneapolis for the first time since 2010, however short-lived it was.
“I got to be a part of something that I consider very special, and I think we have a very unique, special group of people,” Baldelli said. “We got a chance to watch some players reach new heights in their careers. We got a chance to go out there. We won 101 games. It was a group that meshed and came together exceptionally well.”
These Twins became the first team in Major League history with five players that hit 30 or more homers. They were the first team ever to surpass the 300-homer mark, and the first team with 11 five-homer games in a season. The list of records obliterated by the power of the Bomba Squad goes on and on, and that exciting new brand of baseball in Minneapolis was led by the young core that had been prophesized for years and years -- and finally arrived in full force.
Max Kepler, Sanó, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver and Rosario all set career highs in home runs, and, at full health, Kepler, Polanco, Garver and Byron Buxton were among the best players in the American League. That core isn’t going anywhere, and because of that, Cruz doesn’t want to go anywhere either after he mashed 41 homers as one of the most productive free-agent signings in club history.
“I'm sure when we take a second to look back at this season, you're going to see a Minnesota Twins team that was way better than it had been in the last decade,” Cron said. “I think it's something they can build off. It's still a super young group of guys. The core is super young. Sometimes, you've got to take one step back to take 10 steps forward.”
That young core’s lack of performance in the postseason ultimately does mean that this team will join the scores of others that came before it in being unable to vanquish the Yankee monster. But the future is indeed bright, as evidenced by Luis Arraez’s four doubles in the ALDS and top prospect Brusdar Graterol’s scoreless inning at Yankee Stadium in Game 1.
It may be tough to fully digest in the immediate aftermath of such a tough postseason defeat, but this young core did change baseball in Minnesota this season. They hope to be back in this position next year, and they know they’ll be better off for this experience.
And even though it didn’t have the ending that they’d hoped for, they had a real blast along the way. Three hundred and seven blasts, to be exact.
"It was definitely fun,” said Cruz, the veteran of 15 Major League seasons. “Fun experience. Great teammates. The whole group, coaching staff, front office, everybody, the fans. Definitely one of the best ones that I've had.”
"I’m really proud of those guys," Odorizzi added. "There’s nothing I can say to take away from this season. Everyone was phenomenal. This was my most fun year in the big leagues."