At last! Twins snap 18-game postseason losing streak

October 4th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- At last. At long last. Absolution.

It took an ace pitcher who arrived to the ballpark in the jersey of his childhood idol, singularly determined to follow in his footsteps. It took an overlooked kid from North St. Paul and a veteran from Northfield getting the biggest outs of their lives in front of their hometown crowd. It took utter magic from an established playoff legend and the electric centerpiece of the future.

This is what it took to finally get the monkey off the franchise’s back, to finally bring proof to a generation of fans that yes, the Minnesota Twins can, too, deliver for them.

Following the Twins’ 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series at Target Field, they’re no longer the butt of the joke, doomed to answer for the failures and heartbreak of the past. Now, they’re just another team playing for a championship. The record 18-game playoff losing streak is gone; bigger goals can finally take center stage.

“The fans have been believing in us for so long,” starter Pablo López said. “It was just a matter of believing in ourselves and coming to the game, playing loose, understanding that we didn't need to change who we were or our approach, and just go out and have fun. And it was electric, and we embraced it. We were just having fun out there.”

Royce Lewis, the breakout rookie whose performance and charisma have captivated the Upper Midwest in a way that few others have since Minnesota’s World Series teams of old, broke the seal with a home run, and then drove the point home with another as he grabbed another share of magic with historic swats in his first game back following doubt about his availability at all.

López gave the Twins the ace-level, tone-setting outing not seen since the days of Johan Santana, who had delivered this franchise’s last playoff win 6,937 days ago, and whose jersey hung in López’s locker as he delivered 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball.

It keeps coming back to that word: magic.

“This atmosphere, truly, like when I tell you it was electric, it brought that electricity into my body,” Lewis said. “I felt different. My heart was beating -- it was the most nervous game, exciting game I've ever played in my life. It was so much fun.”

After years of bullpen heartbreak in the late innings of October, it could only have happened this way, that the first two men in the line of ironclad pitching that protected López’s lead -- Louie Varland and Caleb Thielbar -- were born in this state, having grown up around this streak and having been molded by it.

“I was a senior in high school in ’04,” Thielbar said. “I remember the [last playoff win]. I’ve experienced everything that all the fans have, too. This was my team growing up. It’s still my team. I know how people feel, and I know what weight was lifted off everyone’s backs today.”

When Lewis hit his first homer in the first inning, a late-arriving Target Field crowd stirred to life. When he hit his second, they believed a bit more. Carlos Correa made his off-balance, spur-of-the-moment, do-or-die throw home to keep the Blue Jays off the board in a momentum-changing play.

Varland escaped his jam in the sixth. The crowd cheered even louder and sustained it this time. Thielbar and Griffin Jax followed. The crowd got to its feet and stayed there. When the Twins loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth, ear-splitting chants of “Let’s go, Twins!” erupted spontaneously in a way rarely -- if ever -- seen in the Target Field era.

“That’s what we play for,” Thielbar said. “The energy you get, especially on the two-strike pitch, I started to worry a little bit about whether I was going to be able to hear the PitchCom or not.”

With two outs in the ninth and Jhoan Duran on the mound, the noise crescendoed to a deafening roar -- and it stayed there.

“It's a lot knowing that we control our fate and knowing that there's a streak on the line that we're responsible for,” Jax said. “We want to be the guy to go out there and get handed the ball and do that job. You feel the emotion of the crowd and the noise and the fans.”

When Donovan Solano dove, snagged the ball and flipped to Duran for the final out, the stadium started shaking.

“I thought the place was going to split open and melt, like, honestly,” Baldelli said. “It was out of this universe out there on the field. The fans took over the game. They helped us win today. They helped us win the game, and they helped us in so many ways out there.”

Yes, this is just one win. It doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s not a series win; and, in fact, it’s the smallest possible incremental step toward a championship, which should be -- and is -- the ultimate goal. In the grand scheme of the postseason, one win means next to nothing.

But for the 38,450 in attendance at Target Field, it was everything, an evening for which they’d waited 19 long years, an evening that parents were telling their children to remember as they walked away from their seats after soaking it all in.

For at least one night in 2023, Target Field became the setting of an indelible memory that those in attendance will take with them for good. They witnessed the rebirth of the October hope they’d been denied for so long.