'I was 6!' Buxton, Twins claim first season series over Yankees since '01

April 26th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- This stat should be taken with the caveat that it’s still far too early in the season to make any grand proclamations about any team.

Still, that shouldn’t take away from the impact of the following words, given the recent (and not-so-recent) history between these teams: The Minnesota Twins have won the season series against the New York Yankees for the first time since 2001.

Long the Yankees’ punching bag in the regular season and postseason alike, these Twins have pushed back in a way that few of their predecessors have. It started with the nine-run first inning in the Bronx two weeks ago and continued on Tuesday, when the Twins took the lead, lost it -- but then surged relentlessly forward with late homers from and  to claim a 6-2, series-clinching victory.

“I don't even know how to put that in words,” said a visibly shocked Buxton. “Twenty-two years? Twenty-two years? I was 6!

“This one felt extra good after hearing that then. I don't know. It's kind of like having that monkey on the back; I know we talked about it a lot over the past few years, about going to Yankee Stadium, playing the Yankees. It feels a lot like that monkey is off the back for sure now.”

They couldn’t have done it without twin seven-inning starting efforts from Sonny Gray on Monday and , who on Tuesday became the first Twins starter since 1979 to win each of his first five starts of a regular season. The Twins have won nine straight games started by Ryan, dating back to last August.

That kind of starting pitching has paved the way for heroics like those of Buxton, who launched his fourth homer of the season to the left-field bleachers on Nestor Cortes’ 98th and final pitch of the night. Buxton flung his bat aside in one fluid motion, gestured emphatically at his dugout and began the trot, embodying the energy of the fans in the building who haven’t seen swings or pitching performances like those -- against these opponents -- in a long, long time.

“For me, I can't remember the last time I've played and won a series against them,” Buxton said. “It's something for us to build off of.”

Truth be told, it could be seen as defeatist in a way for a fanbase and a region to make such a big deal out of one regular-season series victory over one opponent, created by the Twins’ split of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium from April 13-16, and now, their victories in the first two games of this three-game set at Target Field.

And truth be told, there’s probably some accuracy to that. But it’s hard to blame them considering the history of this matchup, even if the 2002, ‘12 or ‘22 editions of these teams had little to no bearing on these 2023 games.

The Twins had lost 16 of their last 19 games against the Yankees entering this season. Since that last season series victory, the Bronx Bombers escorted the Twins out of the playoffs in 2003, ‘04, ‘09, ‘10, ‘17 and ‘19, comprising a massive chunk of Minnesota’s record-breaking 18-game losing streak in the postseason.

Year after year, whether in the regular season or the playoffs, there existed some perception of the Yankees as the big-market boogeyman who would assert that over the Twins. But perhaps this year’s results are a small step toward rectifying that, however early it may be in the regular season, establishing the Yankees as just another opponent against which the Twins can post nine-run innings and hold late leads.

“I think we just feel confident in how good we are as a team,” catcher said. “We're not the teams of the past that get intimidated by the bigger-name teams. In all facets of the game, we're playing really, really clean.”

The Twins have to start somewhere en route to their ultimate goal of winning playoff games -- and they’ll almost certainly see more Yankees-type teams if they make it that far.

Within the clubhouse, that’s still where the sights are set.

“There might be some people, whether it be fans or maybe people within the organization, that are especially pleased with the way this series has gone so far,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But we have so many games to play [beyond a] late-April series against the Yankees.

“We’re expecting bigger highlights this year from our group than this series.”