There have been no heart-warming tales of the little guys overcoming long odds. No Hollywood endings for the unlikely hero against the Evil Empire.
The Yankees are 9-2 against the Twins in the past decade in the first round of the AL playoffs, following 3-1 triumphs in 2003 and 2004 with a sweep last season. The domination likely has made the Yankees more hated in the Twin Cities than in any metro area outside of Boston.
“The Yankees are a great team with a lot of great players,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday. “They have been doing it for a long time. And we had our share of playoff runs, too. And we’ve butted heads with them and they are not the easiest team to play. They create a lot of problems for everybody that faces them.”
The latest chapter in what has been a lopsided rivalry begins on Wednesday night, when Francisco Liriano starts for the Twins in the opener against New York’s CC Sabathia in the first outdoor postseason game in Minnesota since 1970. The Twins went an AL-best 53-28 at home in their first season at Target Field.
The defeats have come in every way imaginable for the Twins, from Mark Teixeira’s 11th-inning home run in Game 2 last year to an 8-1 wipeout of ace Johan Santana in Game 4 at the Metrodome in 2003.
“Yes, we’ve had our issues with them,” Gardenhire said. “We haven’t beaten them. All of those things are out there. It’s easy to see if you look at the records. But we’ve had so many chances. … They get it done. They find a way and that’s what we have to do. We have to find a way. We are pretty good at that this year and I expect us to do it this year.”
That 2003 loss started the Twins‘ string of postseason disappointments. After a stunning run to the AL championship series in 2002, the Twins have not made it out of the first round in four subsequent trips. Three losses to the Yankees and one to Oakland have Twins fans starving for something bigger than a division title.
“We went through a sweep last year. That obviously wasn’t a good feeling,” Twins center fielder Denard Span said. “I just think we’re a year older, a year more ready. We did what we had to do during the regular season. Now I think everybody’s goal is a little higher than it was a year ago.”
The perception is this is big market vs. small market, deep pockets vs. pocket lint. On Tuesday, the Twins hung a picture in the clubhouse of the back page of a recent (New York) Daily News that read “Bad news: Yanks must go on road for playoffs. Good news: They play the Twins. E-Z Pass.”
“In New York, I’m sure the papers perceive it that way, a David and Goliath type,” said utilityman Nick Punto, one of the longest-tenured Twins. “We don’t think that. Major League Baseball, every team can beat anybody on any given day.
“We definitely know we have a good team, a strong team and every year is different. Those guys are the world champs and they were the best team in baseball. Now it’s a new season. Hopefully we can be the best team in baseball.”
The Yankees sure won’t admit to any edge.
“Doesn’t mean anything,” shortstop Derek Jeter interjected, cutting off a question about past success against the Twins.
He relented: “We haven’t played ‘em in awhile. We understand that they’re very hot, especially in the second half. They’ll play us tough. Anything that’s happened in the past has no bearing on this season.”