NEW YORK — Brian Dozier rounded third and yelled “Let’s go!” at his teammates, and it seemed these Twins might finally be the ones to foil the Yankees in the playoffs.
Then the Yankees got their turn at bat.
Minnesota starter Ervin Santana blew a three-run lead in a wild first inning, and the Yankees piled on from there, handing the Twins a record-tying 13th consecutive postseason defeat with an 8-4 victory in the American League wild-card game on Tuesday night.
The Twins matched the Boston Red Sox from 1986 to 1995 for the worst postseason skid ever, with 10 of those losses coming to the Yankees.
The Yankees eliminated the small-market Twins from four AL Division Series from 2003 to 2010, crushing the World Series aspirations of Minnesota’s self-developed core.
Back in the playoffs with another homegrown group, the Twins got a result all too familiar to Minnesota fans — a celebratory Yankee Stadium singalong and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
“l’ve heard Frank sing that song probably too many times, and you can’t get them back,” Twins manager and Minnesota native Paul Molitor said two weeks ago.
It was the same old song on Tuesday night.
With so many new faces, this time could have been different. Joe Mauer is the only holdover on Minnesota’s active roster from its previous playoff appearance seven years ago. He’s with a team that already has wrecked some history too: The Twins went from 103 losses in 2016 to the playoffs this year, a first in major league history.
“There is a lot to be proud about,” Mauer said. “Molitor came in and tried to remind the guys that and myself, tried to remind the guys that.”
The Twins even started strong on Tuesday, chasing Yankees ace Luis Severino with one out in the first on homers by Dozier and Eddie Rosario.
But then Santana wilted in the bottom of the inning. The 34-year-old righty went to full counts against five of seven batters, and New York erased its entire deficit on a three-run homer by Didi Gregorius.
“The exhilaration of jumping out, Brian’s leadoff home run and Rosi, and then the deflation of giving it back so quickly,” Molitor said. “So there was a lot, you know — a lot was spent early.”
Still, Minnesota got to showcase how it got here — a remarkable feat for a team that picked first overall in the June amateur draft.
The turnaround was fueled by a focus on fundamentals, especially in the field and on the bases. Byron Buxton exemplifies that, emerging as an AL Gold Glove contender in center field and one of the game’s premier baserunners.
In the second inning on Tuesday, Buxton tracked Todd Frazier‘s deep fly ball and made a leaping grab, slamming back-first into the wall before tumbling to the ground — exactly the sort of play Minnesota fans are accustomed to seeing from him.
This one was costly, though. Buxton was lifted in the fourth because of tightness in his back, which stiffened up when he beat out a potential double play for an RBI fielder’s choice and then stole second base in the third.
It left Minnesota without Buxton and slugger Miguel Sano — he was left off the roster because of a left shin injury — and the Twins just didn’t have enough to overcome New York’s overpowering bullpen.
With so many young players, Minnesota has a chance to get back to this stage. After all, if the Twins can put 103 losses behind them, what’s one more?
And the club’s history of overcoming adversity runs deeper than that. The Twins even battled skepticism from their own front office: General manager Thad Levine had traded away starter Jaime Garcia and All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler before the trade July 31 deadline, which Molitor acknowledged had fired up some players in the clubhouse.
They turned that angst on opponents, going 33-21 after Aug. 5 to hold off a deep pack of playoff hopefuls.
“Be optimistic more than ever, hold your chin high,” Dozier said. “Are we satisfied? Absolutely not, but I’m very proud.”
There weren’t many chances late for Minnesota on Tuesday. With two on and a three-run deficit in the sixth, Mauer hit a drive to deep left field, but Brett Gardner grabbed it on the warning track in the corner.
New York added another run in the seventh, and its lights-out relievers closed up shop after that, with Aroldis Chapman striking out three in the ninth.
Then it was Frank’s turn — again.
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