John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It was supposed to be different this time. The Twins, fresh off setting a Major League record with 307 home runs, one more than the Yankees hit this season, were going to prove all that postseason history between these teams was meaningless.
And then they went out and played Game 1 like nervous tourists waiting to get mugged in the big, bad city.
Their defense cost them in a big way. Their bullpen collapsed, in part because a few young relievers with no postseason experience looked unnerved and even intimidated by the mighty Yankee lineup, and eventually paying for pitching timidly.
In other words, they looked like the same old Twins that the Yankees had beaten 10 straight times in the post-season, going back to 2004, and offered little reason to believe they can pose a serious threat to the AL East champs in this series.
Maybe it wasn't as easy as the 10-4 final score made it appear, as the Yankees fell behind early and broke the game open late, but it came down to the bullpens, and on that count, as expected, it was no contest.
If there was a moment where the game turned, it was probably in the bottom of the fifth inning, with the game tied 3-3 and both starters, James Paxton and Jose Berrios, already gone.
The Twins brought in 23-year old rookie Zack Littell, who pitched to a 2.68 ERA in 37 inings pitched this season. Aaron Judge was the first hitter he faced, and after falling behind 2-0 Littell threw a slider that the Yankee slugger turned on, hitting a screamer into the seats that was foul by only a few feet.
Suffice it to say that scared Littell out of the strike zone, as he threw two more balls to walk Judge, then two to Brett Gardner before hitting him with the third pitch of the at-bat.
Twins' manager Rocco Baldelli quickly went to 28-year old Tyler Duffey, another right-hander making his first post-season appearance. Duffey managed to strike out Edwin Encarnacion but then clearly wanted no part of Giancarlo Stanton, walking him on five pitches before Gleyber Torres delivered the biggest hit of the game, a two-run double to break the 3-3 tie.
Afterward Baldelli was asked if it looked to him like the stage was too big fo rhis relievers in their first post-season.
"There's really no way to know that," he said. "Those are guys we have leaned on heavily, and we'll continue to lean on them.
"Our guys are resilient, they've come back from losses all year, ready to go. In the clubhouse the music will be playing, same as always. We'll bounce back."
If you saw the scintillating series the Twins played against the Yankees in late July, when they kept fighting back in some memorable, high-scoring games even while losing two out of three, you might be tempted to believe Baldelli, that maybe his team will turn this into a series yet.
It's just that this isn't July, this is October in the Bronx, where the stakes are high and Yankee Stadium is rocking with noise you don't hear during the regular season.
These Yankees have been there, done that, of course, so against a team like the Twins this is their turf in more ways than one.
As Brett Gardner said, "These are the games you look forward all year to playing."
Yes, let's be honest, the Yankees haven't really played a big game in weeks, even months, because of the way they dominated the AL East this season, and they've been dying to show everyone just how good they are when it counts.
They are better than last year's team, largely because D.J. LeMahieu's clutch, contact hitting gives their offense a dimension they didn't have, and he wasted no time proving he'll be a factor this October, going 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBI.
They are better too because Torres is a year older, with a postseason under his belt, as he continues to ascend to superstardom, and it surprised no one in the Yankee clubhouse that the 22-year old second basemen came through in the clutch, laying off a tough, two-strike breaking ball in the fifth before drilling that two-run double.
As Aaron Boone said afterward, "He's shown an ability to understand what teams and pitchers are doing to him, and he has a lot of confidence in his ability, and he came up big tonight again."
Then there was Judge, whose foul home run not only tilted the game in the Yankees' favor, but who reminded everyone he is one of the very few best all-around players in the game by making a couple of diving catches.
In the end, however, the bullpen is the Yankees' greatest strength, at least in comparison to most every other team in this post-season, and it proved the difference in Game 1, with six relievers allowing but one run in 4 1/3 innings, as Boone managed to keep them all fresh for Game 2 as well.
In short, the Twins may have the offensive firepower to match up, but that's not going to be enough to beat the Yankees in October. And as much as they want to believe all the post-season history between these teams doesn't really matter, you sure couldn't tell by Game 1.