When I was a kid in Cleveland, I thought of the New York Yankees in mythological terms. I mean that literally. I imagined the Yankees as being on Mount Olympus, doing whatever it is that Greek gods do – sitting on thrones, seducing women by taking the shape of sheep, hatching petty revenge plots, sending monsters and natural disasters upon their enemies. Those were the Yankees of Reggie and Billy and King George and Goose, they were angry and flaky and proud and too damned good for my team to beat.
In those days, I didn’t despise the Yankees as much as I feared them.
I wonder, if that’s how young Twins fans feel now. The Yankees are certainly not a dominant team now like they were then; they have not been all that good for a while. Oh, don't get me wrong, most fans would walk on hot coals to have the Yankees history over the last decade, but by Yankees standards it's not that great. They have won one World Series victory since 2002, they have one pennant in the last decade, they have even missed the playoffs three times in the last seven years.
But I suspect a young Twins fan would have no faith in any of these moderate signs of Yankee decline. Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, the Twins took a three-run lead in the seventh inning. Every breathing Twins fan anticipated what was about to happen. The Yankees loaded the bases. Alex Rodriguez hit the 25th grand slam of his outsized career. The Yankees ran away to victory. The only surprise was that it was only ARod's second slam against the Twins. I would have guessed it was his 23rd.
How bad has it been for the Twins against the Yankees in recent years?
This bad: Since 2002, the Yankees are 80-29 against the Twins. I’ll repeat that in capital letters in case you missed it: They are EIGHTY and TWENTY NINE.
This is simply not a realistic record: 80-29. It’s the sort of record you will see for some ultra-successful 1A high school football coach in Georgia. It’s the sort of vote total you see for a bill that will designate some day in the near future as “Chocolate Cake Day.” It does not seem possible that one Major League team would beat another Major League team 80 out of 109 times.
And it’s not like we’re talking about a doormat Major League team either. Yes, these have been rough times for the Twins lately, but they have won six division titles since 2002. The Twins have lost 92 or more games each of the last four seasons, and they STILL have a winning record since 2002. This has been a good, sometimes excellent, baseball team. And they’ve also been the New York Yankees’ plaything for 13 years.
Lets go over a few of the lowlights, shall we?
May 17, 2002: The Twins were beginning what would turn out to be their first postseason appearance in more than a decade. They were playing well, beginning to believe, and they went into Yankee Stadium and took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Their closer then was Everyday Eddie Guardado, a fine pitcher who would lead the league in saves that season. He gave up a homer to Bernie Williams to tie the game.
It went all the way to the 14th when the Twins scored three runs to seemingly put the game out of reach. But there is no out of reach when it comes to the Yankees and the Twins. Mike Trombley came in to pitch. He gave up a single to Shane Spencer. He gave up a single to Derek Jeter. He gave up a single to Bernie Williams. And then Jason Giambi, who had just signed with the Yankees for 77 kajillion shmillion dollars, hit the walkoff grand slam.
April 2003: The Twins began the year feeling pretty good about themselves. They had made the playoffs, they were young and exciting, and the Yankees came to town. And the Yankees kicked the Guardado out of them in a four-game set. The Yankees hit 12 home runs and outscored the Twins 38-9. For the season, the Yankees won all seven games the two teams played. Then game the postseason.
Postseason 2003: The Twins won Game 1 against the Yankees in the division series behind their newfound ace Johan Santana. They managed just one run in each of the three losses that quickly followed.
September 30, 2004: The Twins had already clinched their third straight division title when they went to Yankee Stadium to play a three-game series for pride. It was a chance to show that they would not longer be subservient to the Yankees. Yeah. The Twins were swept. In the third game, the Twins led by a run going into the ninth inning. Bernie Williams hit a two-run walkoff homer off Juan Rincon. This couldn’t have put the Twins in the best spiritual place when it came time to face the Yankees again in the postseason.
Postseason 2004: For the second straight year, the Twins beat the Yankees in Game 1 behind the sterling pitching of Johan Santana. Then the nightmares began to howl. In Game 2, the Twins were the comeback team, forcing extra innings with an eighth inning rally. The game went into the 12th, and the Twins took a one run lead on a Torii Hunter homer.
In came the invincible Joe Nathan, one of the best regular season closers in baseball history. He opened the inning with a strikeout. The Twins were two outs away from a 2-0 lead in a best of five series. Then … yeah, Nathan walked Miguel Cairo, he walked Derek Jeter, gave up a game-tying double to Alex Rodriguez, intentionally walked Gary Sheffield and allowed the game-winning sacrifice fly to Hideki Matsui.
The Twins briefly led Game 3, and they held a 5-1 lead in Game 4 with Johan Santana pitching. They lost both games. The series decisive run was scored on a Kyle Lohse wild pitch. These, not Tinker to Evers to Chance, are the saddest of all possible words. 2005
July 23, 2008: The Twins came into Yankee Stadium in first place, and they got swept and outscored 25-7. The most telling moment, I think, came in the third game with the Yankees leading 5-0 going into the ninth inning. The Twins stirred a bit, they scored a run, they put two runners on, and they sent Jason Kubel up to pinch hit. Kubel was not the tying run but manager Joe Girardi, apparently sick of seeing the Twins getting frisky, sent Mariano Rivera into the game. Kubel was quickly fanned and the insurrection was put down before it got started.
May 15-17, 2009: The Yankees beat the Twins all 10 times they played in 2009. So the whole year was a lowlight. But words can barely describe the horrors of those three games at Yankee Stadium:
Game 1: The Twins led 4-2 going into the ninth inning. Again, they had the invincible Joe Nathan on the mound. He gave up a triple to Brent Gardner, a single to Mark Teixera, a walk to A-Rod and an intentional walk to Robinson Cano. Melky Cabrera hit the walkoff single. That’s walkoff number one.
Game 2: The Twins led by a run going into the bottom of the eighth, blew the lead and the game went into extra innings. A-Rod homered off Craig Breslow in the 11th. That’s walkoff number two.
Game 3: The Twins blew a two-run lead in the seventh, again pushing the game into extra innings. Johnny Damon hit the walkoff homer off Jesse Crain. And yes, that’s three straight walkoff victories for the Yankees.
Postseason 2009: The Twins led all three games. The Twins lost all three games. In Game 2, Joe Nathan blew a two-run lead in the ninth by (what else?) giving up a homer to A-Rod. Mark Teixeira hit the walkoff homer in the 11th inning.
Postseason 2010: Twins take a 3-0 lead in Game 1 and blow it, losing on a Mark Teixeira homer. They more or less get outclassed from there.
April 19, 2012: The Twins are now terrible, so these games don’t mean very much. Still, the Twins do take a 4-0 lead at Yankee Stadium. They lose it thanks to Curtis Granderson, who hits three home runs.
July 1-4, 2013: This was the Robinson Cano series. The Twins lost the first game of the series after leading because Cano hit two homers. The led the second game and lost after Cano homered. They led the third game 2-0 – Cano hit a two-run double to tie it then scored the winning run. They lost the fourth game without ever leading – Cano hit a sacrifice fly in the first to give the Yankees the lead they never relinquished.
July 3, 2014: The Twins take a 2-0 lead, which they lose on a Carlos Beltran home run. And then someone named Zelous Wheeler, a 27-year-old rookie playing in his first big league game, homered to seal victory. Zelous Wheeler is now in Japan.
Impressive, no? Then this week they had the A-Rod slam -- incidentally, someone named Nick Rumbelow officially "won" that game for the Yankees. I would like to make it clear: There is nobody named Nick Rumbelow. As Nick Hurwitz tweeted, he's obviously an escaped P.G. Wodehouse character. But that is the Yankees' story these days. Lookit: Chasen Shreve? Nathan Eovaldi? Gregory Bird? John Ryan Murphy? Come on, those aren't Major League baseball players. They are the guys from “The Sandlot.”
The day before the A-Rod slam, the Twins lost a game on a walkoff ground ball by Chase Headley. There was something symbolic about that. Headley hit a slow roller with a man on third and Eduardo Nunez fielded it but didn’t have time to go to the plate. Nunez didn't even bother throwing it home. Bad luck.
But my favorite part of the play though is that Nunez didn't just eat the ball and walk off. No, he threw it to first to record the out. I don't think you can find a better way symbolize this insane Yankees-Twins thing. It was almost like Nunez was saying, "Well, hey, maybe we lost the game. But, you know, at least we got the out."