MINNEAPOLIS — The story is the New York Yankees, who are hopping around on the field below, genuinely pleased to have seen these three games through, but the eye wanders to the Minnesota Twins, heads tipped forward, shrinking away, off to next year after 101 wins and not a single one more.
This can’t be seen, three games passing with such ease for the Yankees, finally by 5-1 on Monday night at Target Field, cumulatively by 23-7, without also seeing what likely comes next, that being the Houston Astros in what could be an epic American League Championship Series, and yet the people here hesitate in the aisles, near their seats, their story being told not over four days but over 15 lousy years, a small town and its big-hearted team stuck with one another and happily so, and it cannot possibly keep ending like this.
The hollering and laughter from out in front of the mound — Aroldis Chapman threw the last pitch, Nelson Cruz watched it pass, a few dozen men hugged it out in an otherwise silent ballpark — is what’s important here, the Yankees having played with precision and charisma. A proud franchise that has not been to a World Series for nearly a decade, which plays as a strained narrative, and will for the next week or two or three, to which the people here would say, Oh pish, save it. For all that the Yankees are, and could soon be, given they did indeed pitch with some proficiency, and did ride 22-year-old Gleyber Torres, and did clock five more home runs, for all they represent, they must be the story, except, except, except …
The Twins were what was fun about the summer of 2019, because they tried and succeeded, because they rose from the malaise of small-market surrender, came out swinging, and held to their own not insignificant history. Perhaps too closely. The Yankees popped their bottles and drank to a job reasonably well done as the Twins and this town considered a 13th consecutive postseason loss to those Yankees, a 16th consecutive postseason loss all told, four days of baseball that resulted in their being the first 100-win team to be swept in a division series.
And so the damp footprints that crisscrossed the hallways beneath their stadium were not theirs. The songs sung in victory sounded not at all like their voices. The 25 who would meet again in a day or two, who would immerse themselves in scouting reports on Verlander and Cole and Bregman and Altuve (or, perhaps, Snell and Morton and Meadows and Pham), who would play for the World Series, would not be them at all. Again. It was all a ruse. It was time to go home.
Torres was 7 when the Twins began losing playoff games to the Yankees. So the latest Yankees heroes and all of the Twins’ heartache have grown up, matured, together. He had homered and doubled twice and defended with great flair in Game 3, so now little kids born in Caracas 15 years ago have become part in the dreadful, in the drip-drip-drip of unfair, in the unfathomable.
The nice lady behind the bar in downtown Minneapolis on Monday said she wasn’t sure she would attend Monday night’s game. She said she could, but damn, “I hate the Yankees,” she said in a near whisper, then went to pour some guy’s beer into a mug the size of a recycling bin. He’d just arrived. “The usual,” he’d spat and, yeah, the usual, because it’s October, the Twins are in trouble and they all hate the Yankees, and then they lost. The usual.
They came. They wore their short-sleeved shirsies — baby blue Pucketts, hard red Carews and pinstriped Morneaus — into the ballpark through the sunny warmth and, for the cool evening coming, carried their hoodies and autumn jackets. They waved their red towels. Somehow they still have the energy, if not all of the conviction, and they still want to see it, so they came, just in case, you never know.
Which is not the story.
The story is Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone patched this thing together for six months, and now a seventh. For their efforts, they’d drawn a 101-win squad that’d homered even more than they had, that also had won 41 of those games (and lost but 16) against the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, which is not so much a knock on the Twins as it is the era in which they play. The Yankees actually made it look fairly routine, in spite of the drag of burdensome injuries, which is not to say reaching the ALCS was a formality. It was not, or didn’t appear to be, until late on a starry night it was.
“I thought they played such a clean game,” Boone said of his players. “They made so many big plays in big spots because I really thought the Twins brought it tonight. They made it difficult.”
Cashman passed on identifying a preferred next opponent, saying, “Just happy to be in the next round. … I’m not rooting for anybody. I was rooting for us to get here.”
At the same time, the guy in the press conference down the hall, big guy with sad, dark eyes but a fast and willing smile even in defeat, he was the latest to try to explain this sort of thing. Mostly it had been Ron Gardenhire, then Paul Molitor had a run, and now Rocco Baldelli.
“We went out there and we did our absolute best,” Baldelli said at the close of his first season, “like we do every single night, and this happened to be the result, but it doesn’t change anything. This was our absolute best effort. Nothing got in the way of it.”
Then he returned to his clubhouse, where the cardboard boxes would be stuffed and addressed and sent away. He hugged a clubbie. He hugged Willians Astudillo, much as he could. Then, one by one, whoever he could find, a bunch of guys in partly deconstructed Twins uniforms, all of them agreeing the past six months had been magical, all of them having watched it go poof.
“We gave it our best,” the veteran Jake Odorizzi said.
And in the other corner, Nelson Cruz shrugged and added, “They beat us, you know? Not excuses. We had a lot of chances. That’s the way it is.”
Well, except that the way it is was down the hallway, with an unlikely Yankees team and its date with something more, probably with the consensus best team in the game (or the Rays). They mopped up the best they could, found some dry clothes, promised to show up with all the pitching they could cobble together come Saturday and smiled at how well this has gone so far.
That’s the story. Anything else would be dumb.
But, the Twins. Their town. Another night like the rest. A generation of this.
“Sometimes,” Cruz said, “it doesn’t work.”
They’ll take the usual.
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