NEW YORK -- These Twins won the home run title over the Yankees on the final day of the regular season and came to the Bronx a loose, confident bunch, sure that the pressure and lights of postseason baseball at Yankee Stadium would not faze them. The Bomba Squad was determined to blast a hole through Minnesota’s ugly playoff record against New York.
Instead, on the 15th anniversary of their last playoff win, the Twins found themselves on the losing end of a second consecutive rout, and their World Series dreams are on life support. A seven-run third inning carried New York to an 8-2 win in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Saturday night, pushing Minnesota into an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five series.
“Results haven't gone the way we wanted and the process hasn't gone the way we wanted throughout these games,” said Twins catcher Mitch Garver, who drove in a run and scored another. “Said this last night: We're going to have to revisit some things. Just getting back to who we are is more important than trying to do something different.”
The tough loss also pushed the Twins further down the wrong side of the history books, as it marked Minnesota’s 15th straight defeat in the postseason, a Major League record. It is also the 12th consecutive game the Twins have dropped to the Yankees in October, marking the longest playoff losing streak to one opponent in baseball history.
A comeback is unlikely, but not impossible. In the history of the best-of-five postseason series, 10 out of 81 teams have come back from an 0-2 deficit to win the series. In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, three of 30 teams have lost the first two games on the road before surging back to win the series -- most recently the 2017 Yankees. Of those 27 losses, 18 have been sweeps.
"There's a few ways to look at it,” Garver said. “Either we're two games down in a five-game series, or we're starting a three-game series. So we need to take it one game at a time.”
The Twins would not have gotten this far -- winning 101 games and their first AL Central championship since 2010 -- without confidence in themselves. But in the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium following Saturday night’s contest, a frustrated squad was just ready to get back to Minneapolis and turn the page.
"Personally, to me, and I'm sure a lot of other people think it, too, I'm just breathing a little sigh of relief,” outfielder Jake Cave said. “We came here on the road and we didn't play our best baseball. … I think we're going to be a way different team."
“It seems like we got our tails kicked a little bit around this place,” first baseman C.J. Cron added. “It's going to be nice to go home, take the day off to kind of just recalibrate, and hopefully, when we get in front of our fans, we can feel a little bit more comfortable.”
Minnesota could have some welcome stability in All-Star right-hander Jake Odorizzi on extended rest once the club gets back to Minneapolis for Game 3 on Monday. The veteran has completed at least five innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs in all but one of his second-half starts.
The only problem is that the exception was a nine-run eruption by the Yankees against Odorizzi at Target Field on July 24, but the Twins now have no choice but to put that game behind them -- along with these two in New York.
“We have nothing to do but win now,” Cron said. “It's our only option. Hopefully we can do that.”
The odds are against the Twins, and their margin for error is down to zero. They have a lot they need to get right -- on both sides of the ball -- before they take the field in Game 3. Those shortcomings were on full display in Saturday night’s contest.
Dobnak, making only his 10th appearance in the Major Leagues, allowed two hits in each of the three innings that he pitched in and departed the game after loading the bases with no outs in the third. Duffey entered and allowed two of those runners to score before he again loaded the bases and allowed a backbreaking grand slam to Didi Gregorius.
Two walks and a hit-by-pitch contributed to that rally, and a Twins pitching staff that was relying on the Yankees’ lineup to chase out of the strike zone may need to adjust to be more around the zone.
“They’re usually pretty aggressive and chase,” said Devin Smeltzer, who pitched 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. “They’ve put together some great at-bats.”
And perhaps equally as concerning was the fact that after clubbing three homers off James Paxton and the New York bullpen in Game 1, the Bomba Squad was held to two runs on six hits on Saturday as they were stymied by Masahiro Tanaka's arsenal of offspeed pitches. Garver openly acknowledged that Minnesota's lineup has been caught off balance by New York’s pitching plan.
“It seems like we're swinging at a lot of balls and taking a lot of strikes,” Garver said. “It's almost like our approach is a touch backwards, one pitch ahead or one pitch behind. Guys are looking for something, they're getting the opposite.”
The Twins claim that there’s no “reset” button or paradigm shifts to get them on the right track, and there’s little time to figure that out, anyway. Perhaps the change in scenery will get them back on track.
While this team has endured its share of difficult streaks this season, very few of those streaks have lasted long, as these Twins only lost three straight games twice. Who’s to say that this team can’t carry that into the playoffs, with a little help from a return trip home?
“I don't think we want to change the way we're playing the game,” Garver said. “If you ask anybody in this locker room, they'll say we won 100 games doing it our way. We can live and die by that and be proud of what we did this year. This next game up -- we really do have to take it one game at a time, because there is no tomorrow.”