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Playoff Playbacks, part four: New York, New York, New York (2009, 2010, 2017)

Don’t read this, unless you want to be sad

This is the fourth of a four-part series going back in time to the playoff races in Minnesota Twins history in preparation for this year’s team’s playoff run that starts with the American League Division Series on Friday. Our resident sandwich man has present the first three parts, found here, here, and here.

Following the short-lived postseason experience at the end of an exciting 2006 season, the Twins endured a losing season in 2007. In 2008, they were within a Game 163 Jim Thome (White Sox version) solo home run from returning to the playoffs. In 2009, the pressure was on for a coaching staff that had remained unchanged since the last trip to the playoffs.

Roster turnover had been fairly minimal between 2006 and 2009, as the 2009 squad was still led by Mauer and Morneau. Guys like Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer were still around, while Denard Span/Carlos Gomez had replaced Torii Hunter, Delmon Young had replaced Lew Ford, Joe Crede took over for LNP (Punto remained, just on the bench), Alexi Casilla for Luis Castillo, and midseason trade Orlando Cabrera took over for Jason Bartlett. The pitching staff notably no longer featured perennial Cy Young contender Johan Santana, but instead featured Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Francisco Liriano.

The 2009 Twins, once again, had to play in a Game 163. However, this time around, the team came out on top in one of the greatest games in team history. After the 12-inning thriller, the Twins entered the playoffs to face a classic foe: the New York Yankees.

The best-of-five series opened in New York’s brand-new stadium, and Game 1 was all Yankees. The Twins did open the scoring, scoring two runs in the third on an RBI single by Michael Cuddyer and a passed ball, before New York scored 7 unanswered over the rest of the game. Brian Duensing took the loss for the Twins, C.C. Sabathia took the win for the Yankees, and Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui hit home runs for the home team.

Game 2 in Yankee Stadium presented an infamous what-if for Twins fans, as the game went to 11 innings before Mark Teixeira hit a walk-off shot to end it. However, the most notable part of the game is Phil Cuzzi suffering from temporary blindness on Joe Mauer’s ground-rule double foul ball that changed the course of the game. I had forgotten just how bad this call was before watching it today. Cuzzi, literally standing 10 feet away, called the ball foul after it tipped off the left-fielder’s glove in fair territory AND landed a full four inches inside the line. Literally one of the most inexplicable blown calls that has ever been seen. Not even Joe West could have blown that call. Had Cuzzi possessed the ability to properly use his sense of sight, the Twins likely would have headed home to the Metrodome having stole a game on the road, but instead, they came back to Minnesota in an 0-2 hole.

The Twins struck first for the third game in a row in Game 3, as Joe Mauer put the Twins and Carl Pavano ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth. However, for the third game in a row, the Yankees answered back immediately, taking the lead in the seventh and adding on in the ninth. Brendan Harris grounded out to Jeter to end the game, and Twins baseball would never return to the Metrodome. You could’ve found my mother and I in the stands for that game, disappointed in yet another swift playoff exit for our favorite team.

2010 presented new hope with the gleaming new limestone at beautiful Target Field, as the Twins looked to rebound from the tough playoff exit. Looking to improve upon the year before, the Twins added infielders J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson and DH Jim Thome in the off-season. They also notably lost long-time closer Joe Nathan prior to the season and replaced him with a short-sighted trade for Matt Capps (giving up future All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos) midseason. The Twins did rebound well, winning 94 games and taking a second consecutive division title. And then they faced the Yankees again.

For the fourth consecutive time, the Twins scored first in a playoff game against New York. Game 1 started off well for the Twins, as Michael Cuddyer hit a two-run home run in the second inning. In the third inning, the Twins tacked on another one, and Francisco Liriano pitched scoreless ball until the sixth. In the sixth, he had a snowball disaster of an inning, giving up four runs and the lead. The Twins would tie it up in the bottom of the sixth, but Mark Teixeira would put the Yankees back ahead for good in the seventh with a two-run shot. For the second consecutive playoff game, my mother and I left the stadium feeling deflated.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Twins scored first in the next game. Game 2, at Target Field, saw the Twins take the lead early, lose it in the middle innings, and then let New York score some insurance later on. The script was familiar, the sting was familiar, but it stung all the less. This has not been a fun writing experience.

Game 3, in New York, was at least different. However, it wasn’t good different. The Yankees put up six runs before the Twins were able to avoid the shutout by scoring one run in the eighth. The last playoff game the Twins would play until 2017 ended in yet another loss to New York.

This is where I’d put a video for 2010, but I’m too sad to go look for one. Here’s a link to Youtube’s home page:

2017 featured a Twins team that had been completely refaced over many struggling years since 2010. Joe Mauer was the only holdover, Gardy had been replaced by Paul Molitor, and the Falvine front office had taken over for Terry Ryan/Bill Smith. The team had lost 100 games the year before, and would become the first team in MLB history to reach the playoffs just one year removed from such a sad season.

The Twins nabbed the second wild card spot, riding Brian Dozier, a resurgent Mauer, Ervin Santana, and young players like Jose Berrios and Miguel Sano. This team featured the youngest versions of many of 2019’s squad, and provided a much-needed jolt to the hopes of fans and players during a long rebuild. 2018 was a letdown, so the rebuild really did not come full circle until 2019 (rather than 2017), but this season was truly a light to Twins Territory.

However, I’m not here to talk about how encouraging 2017 was. I’m here to talk about the playoffs. And guess who the Twins faced in the Wild Card game that year.

The Twins once again faced the Yankees in the playoffs. Playing in New York, it was deja vu all over again. Ervin Santana started the game against the Yankees’ Luis Severino (still on the squad this year). The top of the first was one of the more exciting starts for the Twins in recent years, as a leadoff dinger by Brian Dozier and a two-run dong by Eddie Rosario quickly put the Twins ahead in the first inning. Severino was pulled after recording only one out. However, the Yankees tied the game up in the bottom of the first, pulled ahead in the second, and never looked back. The Twins would add a run to tie it up in the third, but the Yankees immediately got it back and then added some insurance later on. Jose Berrios was called upon in the third inning to relieve a struggling Santana, and so received some postseason experience, although it wasn’t particularly good. This was the last postseason appearance by the Twins to date, and it was the 13th consecutive playoff loss for the Twins.

This has been completely and utterly unenjoyable to write, I’d imagine it will be just as unenjoyable to read, and I hope that this 2019 squad gets to write their own script instead of repeating the same depressing story that past Twins teams have written. Go Twins!