MINNEAPOLIS — A few weeks later these Yankees would go down as chokers, gaggers, the first baseball team to ever allow a 3-0 advantage in a best-of-seven series go to hell. But that was for later. For now, inside old Yankee Stadium, an old-time crowd of 56,354 was trying its best to summon the ghosts. They were succeeding.
The Twins had won Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS 2-0 behind seven shutout innings from Johan Santana the night before. They were still plenty full of confidence in Game 2 on Oct. 6, wiping out a 5-3 eighth-inning deficit against Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera. They’d gone up 6-5 in the top of the eighth, Torii Hunter taking Tanyon Sturtz deep.
“Three outs,” Joe Torre said, “from putting us in a very bad place, going to that crazy indoor bubble of theirs.”
Joe Nathan struck out John Olerud, threw strike one to Miguel Cairo, leading off the bottom of the 12th — and then eight straight balls to Cairo and Derek Jeter. On a 1-1 count, Alex Rodriguez clobbered a game-tying ground-rule double. Two batters later Hideki Irabu hit a sac fly, Jeter scored, the Yankees survived.
The Stadium shook. So did Shannon Stewart, the Twins’ left fielder, who in the quiet of the Twins locker room whispered, “To lose a game like that is a lot harder to swallow than being blown out. We all feel very bad. You can’t let a game like that slip away, you never know when you’ll get another chance to beat them.”
He had no idea how true his words were. The Twins lost both games back at the Metrodome. It was a three-game losing streak at the worst possible time. Fifteen years later, it continues unabated.
Yankees 7, Twins 2 (0-4)
Yankees 4, Twins 3, 11 (0-5)
Yankees 4, Twins 1 (0-6)
Once again the Yankees torture Nathan and turn a series on its ear. This time it was a two-run homer by A-Rod with none out in the ninth of Game 2, and a walk-off by Mark Teixeira in the 11th. Though 0-6 against the Yanks, Twins are really 0-9 because the A’s swept them in the 2006 ALDS.
“History is only a factor,” Earvin Johnson said, “if you let it be a factor.”
This was June 9, 1985. The Lakers had walked into Boston Garden, a house of so many horrors across three different decades, and beaten the hated Celtics, 111-100. Seven times dating back to 1962 the Lakers had played the Celtics in the NBA Finals; until that night they were 0-7 in those series. Then, in Game 1 in ’85, the Celtics had added an extra layer of angst by beating them in Boston 148-114 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.
“America thought we were already done,” Pat Riley recalled of that series a few years later, when he was coaching the Knicks. “We had different ideas.”
He added: “Nothing is predestined. Nothing is predetermined. Nothing is impossible. You just have to do it. Of course, ‘doing it’ is about as hard a task as you can ask for. But if you don’t believe it can be done why should anyone else?”
Yankees 6, Twins 4 (0-7)
Yankees 5, Twins 2, 11 (0-8)
Yankees 6, Twins 1 (0-9)
In a twist, the Twins had home field and actually led 3-0 heading into the sixth inning in Game 1. But Mark Teixeira smoked a go-ahead homer in the seventh and that, as they say, was that.
Sometimes, what it takes is someone too young to care — or even know — about negative history. On Oct. 4, 1955, Walter Alston handed the baseball for decisive Game 7 of the World Series to Johnny Podres who had just turned 23. He was 9 the first time the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series, in 1941. Brooklyn’s losses to the Yankees in ’47, ’49, ’52 and ’53 barely registered for him.
He didn’t have any baggage. He didn’t know enough to have any.
“There was no pressure on me,” Podres recalled years later. “I was 9-10. I was a kid. I was nobody. Who expected me to beat the Yankees? I figured, pitch the game of your life, win the game, we ain’t Bums anymore.”
Podres scattered eight hits in nine innings. The Dodgers won 2-0. Next Year finally arrived.
2017 AL Wild-Card Game:
Yankees 8, Twins 4 (0-10)
Yankees 10, Twins 4 (0-11)
Yankees 8, Twins 2 (0-12)
Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario, who didn’t know better, hit homers in the first inning to give the Twins a quick 3-0 lead in ’17; the lead lasted all of one out. The Twins led 2-0 in Game 1 Friday, too. You didn’t remember that, did you?
Maybe there is someone on the Twins who can channel Kevin Millar.
A few weeks after that ’04 ALDS that started everything, facing an imposing 0-3 hole of his own, the Red Sox’s chatty first baseman famously warned, “Don’t let us win tonight. This is a big game. They’ve got to win because if we win, we’ve got Pedro [Martinez] coming back today, and then [Curt] Schilling will pitch Game 6, and then you can take that fraud stuff and put it to bed. Don’t let the Sox win this game.”
Anyone on the Twins care to clear his throat?