The history, Rocco Baldelli said, doesn’t matter. That’s for spectators, not players.
“We have a lot of guys in the clubhouse,” the Minnesota Twins manager said Tuesday, Sept. 29, “but the vast majority of them don’t know the Twins’ history at all.”
Maybe, but it has to be getting hard to ignore and after Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of baseball’s once-off 2020 postseason. The Twins have now lost 17 straight postseason games, and most of the players in the current clubhouse were on the wrong end of the past four.
The good news is the Twins don’t have to wait long to get back on the horse. Game 2 is scheduled noon Wednesday at Target Field. Don’t expect Baldelli to go over the history with his charges.
“I don’t think there’s really anything to talk about,” he said. “I think if I brought that up, they’d probably look at me funny and wonder what the hell I was saying.”
Well, certainly the future is unwritten, and bringing up baseball’s longest postseason drought – the Twins broke their own record on Tuesday – doesn’t make sense for a manager. But let’s dispose of the idea that this team doesn’t figure into the postseason futility.
The Twins might yet win this series; they have two more chances, and the Astros already are out of starting pitching. But the Twins played badly enough on Tuesday to wonder if the playoffs remain something of an existential crisis for a team that was won eight division titles since 2002 but won one playoff series.
Starter Kenta Maeda pitched five scoreless innings, and Nelson Cruz put the Twins up 1-0 with an RBI double off the right-field wall in the third, but those were the highlights for a team that now must win two in a row to stay alive in the postseason.
The Twins left the bases loaded in the first inning without scoring a run.
With a 1-0 lead in the fifth, Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Arraez started with walks but were stranded without incident.
They had the chance move to the tied 1-1 when Sergio Romo got leadoff hitter George Springer to ground to short, but Jorge Polanco’s attempt to force Yuli Gurriel at second was wide, loading the bases. Romo then walked in the go-ahead run.
By the time Michael Brantley singled in another two runs off Caleb Thielbar, the Twins looked deflated – maybe not by the weight of 17 straight playoff losses, but certainly to by the realization that they had squandered a rare opportunity.
Despite an extra-inning loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, the Twins clinched their second straight American League Central title and the honors and benefits that go with it; most relevant among them was the chance to start the playoffs with a three-game home series against one of the worst teams to ever advance to a major league postseason.
The Astros skulked in with a 29-31 record and without the two pitchers that led them into the World Series the previous two seasons, Gerit Cole, who signed with the Yankees, and reigning Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, headed for Tommy John surgery. Manager Dusty Baker, not generally known for his way with a pitching staff, rolled the dice by throwing his two best starters – Zack Greinke and Framber Valdez – in Game 1 and heck if it didn’t work.
As time ran out on the Twins, a nearly empty Target Field felt that much lonelier as the autumn evening signaled the end of what had been a sunny, promising day in downtown Minneapolis. After grounding out to first to start the ninth, Eddie Rosario paced a still dugout like a man on the Green Mile.
“This is baseball, and everyone here puts a lot into it, therefore it becomes very emotional,” Baldelli said. “It becomes emotional in every direction, and that’s normal. It should be. When you put so much into something and you care and you dedicate your life to it, all of this that goes on here means a lot to us.”
And the fans, of course, who have absorbed all 17 of those playoff losses — right in the heart. They’ll be back tomorrow, hoping the Twins can beat history twice. It starts with one win, which really shouldn’t be as difficult as the history makes it seem.
“You’ve got to win one before you can move on and win a series and potentially win a World Series,” Baldelli said. “We have some work to do and it starts tomorrow.”