Yankees happily face, erase Twins in ALDS


There will be a flag at Target Field next season honoring the Twins 2010 Central Division title. Perhaps it should wave at half mast.

In what proved their 12th consecutive postseason loss, dating to the 2004 American League Divisional Series, the Twins were unceremoniously swept from the first round of the playoffs for the second time in as many years by the New York Yankees.

The Twins dirty dozen defeats now stand as the second-longest postseason losing streak in baseball history, a mere one game behind the 13 straight losses suffered by the Boston Red Sox from October 25, 1986 - October 6, 1995.

After signing Joe Mauer to the fourth-richest contract in baseball history, after an aggressive and deservedly celebrated slew of roster additions, after enjoying their finest season since 2006, after adding $40 million to their once frugal payroll, after setting a team attendance mark, after seeing their new ballpark bask in the national spotlight, after Jim Thome hit the American flag pole on Labor Day, after becoming the first club in baseball to clinch a playoff spot, after . . .

Well, after six months of busting their tails, the Twins penned their final chapter of 2010 with a blunt Yankee broom handle, and left us shaking heads instead of hands while the collective attentions of our sporting Twin Cities' instantly derives greater enjoyment in considering how many touchdowns Randy Moss will grab from Brett Favre.

Perhaps the sober among us (Yours Truly excluded) saw this coming.  I had the Twins in five, although the prediction was contingent on the club taking Game's 1 and 2 at home.  Perhaps from the moment that Jesse Crain gave up that two-run bomb to Mark Teixeira in the seventh inning of the series opener, there was little need for true hope here.

Or perhaps it goes back further.  On the season's final way, with a chance to beat out the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East title, the Yankees started one Mr. Dustin Moseley versus the Red Sox.  Of course, a New York victory would have ultimately still found them as the league's Wild card given the Rays' eventual win in extra's over the Royals -- but at the time, there was still meaning there.

Yet the Pinstripes trotted out a career 12-10 starter on that day in which they still could have clinched home field advantage and a date with Texas in the ALDS.  It's true that starters CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes (we know those guys) were not options to throw on that curious day of recent yore, just as it's also a fact that alternate starting option Javier Vasquez had been wholly brutal for two months.  Yet Vasquez is also a guy with over 400 career starts, 152 career wins, an All Star appearance, and playoff experience.  Moseley?  He's the artist of six lifetime Quality Starts, and would go on to even his seasonal record at 4-4 in the Yanks' 8-4 loss.

After allowing four runs in five innings off of two walks and five hits (including two HR's) to an

anemic Sox lineup, Moseley was replaced to start the sixth by lefty Royce Ring, the craftsman of a whopping four 2010 appearances in late-September/early-October who was brought in to face David Ortiz, the man he'd given up a single to the day prior.  After just one pitch, Ring was done, having allowed another hit to Ortiz via a bunt single.  Trailing 4-2, manager Joe Girardi then called upon righty David Roberson.  After Robertson came lefty Boone Logan, who ultimately held opposing left handers to a .190 average on the season and was the lone southpaw in the Yankee pen for the ALDS.   

New York did sport their "A" lineup that day against a tattered Red Sox unit and starter John Lackey, and yes, Girardi did employ the arms of four guys -- Moseley, Robertson, Logan, and Joba Chamberlin -- who made his postseason roster.  Yet why was Ring brought in to face Ortiz instead of Logan, who had induced an Ortiz double play ball the day previous?  In addition: why did Girardi not call upon rejuvenated stud reliever Kerry Wood instead of Robertson in the fifth?

It's true: Logan eventually did appear to throw seven pitches and Wood had thrown 26 pitches the day before.  In addition, an appearance in the fifth inning would have been Wood's earliest entry all season, with either Cleveland or New York.  So his entrance at this stage would have been going against the seasonal grain.  But while Robertson is no slouch, Wood has been sensational (as evidenced in the ALDS) since joining the Yanks.

Were these not desperate times for the Yankees?  Was Tampa not concurrently dueling with Kansas City, trailing the Royals until a ninth inning comeback on this same Sunday afternoon?  Were the Yanks not pulling out all stops to strive for that division title and a home date with Texas?

No.  They weren't.  Because New York -- as the sad events of the ALDS rapidly reemphasized -- was absolutely fine with facing the Twins, wherever the games be held.  New York was 4-4 versus Texas this season and, it goes without reminding, had beat the Twins in 14 of their past 16 meets dating to last season. 

Is there some (atypical) conspiracy theory herein?  Perhaps.  I won't go so far as to say that Girardi was managing to lose, but I'm of the belief that they lacked an urgency to win.  A divisional flag flapping in Yankee Stadium means nothing to an organization that has won 27 world titles just as the Twins' Central flag will first serve as a sign of what may have been.

Perhaps, in time, we'll look at that flag as a painful, yet necessary and ultimately constructive pit-stop in the journey that someday takes the Twins past the roadblock that is the Yankees and back to the climax of a title that our T.C. hasn't seen for 20 years and counting.

Until then, a cold wind moves over Target Field, blowing long with lament until the sweet smell of spring returns anew.

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