Yankees playoff mastery of Twins continues

NEW YORK – It’s been 15 years since the New York Yankees lost a game in October to the Minnesota Twins, and judging by Game 1 of the American League Division Series, it might be 15 more years before they lose another one.

Gleyber Torres was seven years old when the Twins won that one, 2-0 in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS, starting a record run of playoff losses that stretched to 14 straight, 11 to the Yankees, with Friday’s 10-4 Yankees win at a raucous, and at times deafening, Yankee Stadium.

It was Torres’ two-run double at the end of an epic seven-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning that began the Twins’ slide back into that seemingly bottomless abyss, and started the Yankees off on what they hope will culminate in their 28th World Championship, and first since 2009.

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But there was a lot more to this win than Torres’ hit, a scorcher down the third-base line that ate up Miguel Sano, scoring Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner to snap a 3-3 tie.

Although the Yankees and Twins were separated by just two games in the regular-season – the Yankees won 103 games and finished atop the AL East, the Twins 101 to win the Central – and a single home run – the Twins out-homered the Yankees with an MLB-record 307 – on the field the gulf between the two teams seemed a whole lot wider.

Before the game, Yankees manager Aaron Boone downplayed his team’s record of mastery over the Twins. “Well, I’m hoping it means something but honestly, I don’t think it factors much in here,’’ he said. “I don’t think history plays a huge role one way or the other.’’

New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres reacts after driving in two runs against the Minnesota Twins during the fifth inning of Game 1 of an American League Division Series baseball game, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in New York. (AP)
New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres reacts after driving in two runs against the Minnesota Twins during the fifth inning of Game 1 of an American League Division Series baseball game, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in New York. (AP)

But while the names have changed – that 2004 Twins team featured Johan Santana and Torii Hunter and was managed by Ron Gardenhire – the results have stayed remarkably consistent.

As they have in four previous Octobers over the past 15 years, the Yankees dominated the Twins in virtually every aspect of the game. The only area in which the two battled to a draw was in the performance of their starters, with both the Yankees James Paxton and the Twins Jose Berrios allowing three runs, and neither being able to complete five innings.

Other than that, it was all Yankees.

While Twins’ first baseman C.J. Cron was botching the relay on what should have been an inning-ending double play, allowing two unearned runs to score in the third, Judge was making a pair of diving catches, the second of which bailed out Zack Britton, one of six relievers used by Boone.

While the Twins bullpen was taking a tight game and turning it into a laugher – the Yankees final five runs were scored off a pair of Twins relievers, Kyle Gibson and Cody Stashak – the Yankees bullpen, asked to get the final 13 outs of the game after Paxton was pulled with two outs in the fifth, allowed one run and just two hits the rest of the way.

And while the Twins offense did what it does best, hit the ball out of the ballpark, their three home runs (by Jorge PolancoNelson Cruz and Sano) were all relatively harmless solo shots. Despite getting runners into scoring position in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, the Twins were never able to come up with the big hit they needed to keep the game close.

The biggest hit of the night came from the youngest Yankee, Torres, who the Yankees acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Chicago Cubs in exchange for their closer, Aroldis Chapman, in 2016. That deal may well have gotten the Cubs their first World Championship in 108 years. Now, three years later, that same deal could return the favor for the Yankees. (They also re-acquired Chapman that off-season as a free agent, one of Yankee GM Brian Cashman’s most impressive coups.)

In his second full big-league season, Torres, who had been projected as a line-drive hitter in the mold of Derek Jeter, exploded into a legitimate power threat, leading the team with 38 home runs.

But it is the poise of this 22-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela, that has most impressed his teammates. “No situation is too big for him,’’ said D.J. LeMahieu, who homered in the sixth and cleared the bases with a double in the seventh. “He’s an impressive player.’’

Aaron Judge dives to make the catch during the third inning of the ALDS Game 1 between the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. (Getty Images)
Aaron Judge dives to make the catch during the third inning of the ALDS Game 1 between the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. (Getty Images)

Torres’ at-bat in the fifth off Tyler Duffey, a right-hander and probably the most dominant arm in the Twins bullpen, was the highlight of the game. After falling behind 0-2, Torres worked the count full, laying off a slider that easily could have been strike three. He barely got a piece of the next slider, and then turned on a 96-MPH fastball and sent a rocket that caromed off Sano’s glove into foul territory.

“I never feel panic, I just try to put the ball into play,’’ Torres said. “I was just waiting for a fastball. He throws it, and I do that.’’

The hit was especially sweet for Torres because in his previous at-bat, against Berrios, he had hit the same grounder to Sano that should have ended the inning on a double play. Even though two runs scored on Cron’s error at first, Torres knew he hadn’t really done his job.

“That is the thing that is beautiful about baseball,’’ he said. “You always get a second opportunity.’’

Torres might also have been referring to his previous playoff appearance, when he made the last out of the Yankees 2018 ALDS challenge to the Boston Red Sox, grounding to third with the tying run at second base.

“I felt really bad because I made that last out,’’ he said, “I never forgot that moment. But I took it as an experience for me and took advantage of that moment tonight. It’s all about helping my team.’’

Torres is too young to know it, but his team has never needed a lot of help in beating the Twins in October. And considering the way the two teams looked on Friday, he could be a grizzled old veteran by the time they do.

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