From 1961-2001, the Minnesota Twins went 226-283 (a .444 winning percentage) against the New York Yankees. While such a record is not great, by any means, truth be told most MLB teams probably had a losing ledger against NYY in that time frame.
The Twins sped to a 22-13 start in 2002. A contraction scheme couldn’t kill them off and they were out to prove to the entire league that their solid ‘01 finish wasn’t a fluke. But then, in the span of two weekend series, the entire trajectory—or least aura—of the Twins franchise inexplicably changed...and not for the better.
It began on Friday, 5/10/02, in front of 35,000 Metrodome denizens looking to root, root, root for their 1st place home team. Alas, despite an early Brian Buchanan home run off David Wells, Eric Milton (4.1 IP, 10 H, 5 ER) wasn’t quite up to the task and the Twins fell to the pinstriped visitors 5-3 when Mariano Rivera locked down the save. Interestingly, Ron Coomer was the designated hitter for the Yanks that night.
The next day, 43,000 were sucked though the Dome gates and witnessed a Ted Lily vs. Kyle Lohse (so I’m sure I was probably there) pitching duel. With the scoreboard knotted at two apiece into the ninth, Eddie Guardado surrendered a big fly to Robin Ventura. Again, Mo was Mo—4-2 Evil Empire.
Looking to salvage the Sunday finale, the Twins—did not. Rick Reed was bombed to the tune of four dingers (Ventura, Jorge Posada, Nick Johnson, Derek Jeter, and surprisingly somehow not Jim Thome). Jason Giambi added another long ball off Twins reliever Jack Cressend and the final was 10-4 Bombers. No Mo needed—not with Mike Mussina (7.2 IP, 4 ER) protecting the big lead.
Fortunately, after the demoralizing home sweep, the Twins got the most reliable salve possible at that time: a trip to Kansas City, where they predictably took 3-of-4 from the Royals to get back on track. Very few—at least in those halcyon times—could have predicted what was in store next.
On Friday night, May 17, the Twins took the Yankee Stadium 2.0 field for another weekend clash. Reed (4 IP, 5 ER) & Mussina (5 IP, 7 ER) didn’t exactly perpetuate a pitcher’s duel, and the Twins clung to a 9-8 margin heading into the bottom of the ninth. After Mike Jackson—in what only could be described as a rare moment of analytics-based thinking in that era—retired Jeter on a groundout, Guardado trotted in from the pen. He promptly allowed a game-tying HR to Bernie Williams.
The score remained 9-9 until the 14th frame, when the Twins rallied against New York reliever Sterling Hitchcock. Bobby Kielty, Denny Hocking, & Jacque Jones all had RBI hits, and when the dust settled the visitors were up 12-9 in what looked to be maybe the most exciting victory of the season to that point. This article’s existence suggests otherwise.
Longtime MN reliever Mike Trombley surrendered hits to Shane Spencer & Jeter, and walked Williams sandwiched around an Alfonso Soriano flyout. This brought Giambi to the plate with one down and the bases juiced:
I will never forget exactly where I was when that moment transpired. It was a state of complete and utter shock after 5 hours and 45 minutes of wild baseball.
Much like the air rushing out of a deflated balloon, the Twins sagged through the rest of the series. On Saturday, Lily (7 IP, 1 ER) held them at bay for a 6-2 victory. On Sunday, Matt Kinney was no match for Roger Clemens (8 IP, 0 ER, 13 K) and a 3-0 Yankees win.
From that ‘02 season onward, the Twins have gone 38-109 (.259 winning percentage) against the New York Yankees. An almost unimaginable level of futility—and that doesn’t even count the six times the East Coast-ers have knocked our bunch out of the postseason. The Twins have had some fun moments here and there within the rivalry—but extremely few & far between.
This season, NYY comes to town in mid-June and MIN heads their way in early September. As is seemingly cosmically predestined at this point, both teams are leading their respective divisions and could be primed for another playoff confrontation. At a certain point, the levee will break and the Twins will beat the Yankees in a meaningful game. Unfortunately, fans have 20 years of nightmarish memories that always suggest otherwise.