By Jason Keidel
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It’s hard to frame a baseball game as “David versus Goliath” when neither team won its own division.
But considering it’s the Minnesota Twins, who lost 100 games last year, and the New York Yankees, who are the Twins’ version of baseball Kryptonite, such a description is pretty apropos.
It would take a stand-alone column to list all the big games the Twins have lost to the Yankees, so let’s look at the CliffsNotes.
The Twins entered Tuesday’s AL wild-card game having lost their last 12 playoff games, including nine in a row against the Yankees. Since 2002, the Bombers have lorded over the Twins an 89-33 record (including the postseason). When they play in the Bronx, the location of Tuesday’s win-or-go-home affair, the Twins are 14-45 over the same period.
Yet the Twins had a 3-0 lead four batters into Tuesday game, which featured five homers (three by the Yankees) through just four innings.
PHOTOS: Yankees-Twins Wild-Card Game
Good thing the Yankees spent so much time and money on their bullpen, as they needed every expendable arm on Tuesday, thanks to this season’s ace, Luis Severino, failing to pitch his way out of the first inning. He left with more homers surrendered (two) than outs registered (one).
Indeed, it felt like an entire game was played by the third inning. It featured all kinds of October action right away, with a combined six runs scored in the first, and an electric, jumping catch in center field by Byron Buxton in the second. At the end of three innings, the Yankees were up 5-4.
Keeping with the theme of the 2017 MLB season, the ball refused to stay inside the ballpark. The starting pitchers combined to go 2 1/3 innings. Severino and Ervin Santana, who had a fabulous season, combined to surrender seven hits, three walks, and seven runs on 103 total pitches. Neither starter registered a strikeout, something that had happened only five other times in postseason history.
Not even Chad Green, the bionic arm and strikeout machine who quietly became the Yankees’ best pitcher this season, could keep runners off base, tossing 41 total pitches and loading the bases in the second inning.
David Robertson, a stalwart who usually comes on in the seventh or eighth innings, entered in the third, and allowed just one of Green’s baserunners to touch home plate. Robertson, who got the win, could easily have been the game’s MVP, as he recorded five strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings, without yielding a run. In the process, he built an essential bridge to what was left of the Yankees’ robust bullpen.
And not to be left out of the hit parade, Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ best hitter and MVP candidate, put an exclamation point on the night with a two-run blast in the fourth to give the Yanks a 7-4 lead. It only traveled 386 feet, but it was as vibrant and vital as any fly ball he has hit during what has been a most charmed rookie season. Judge joined Elston Howard and Shane Spencer as the only Yankees to hit homers in their playoff debut.
The Yanks lapped on one more run in the seventh and then a conga line of relievers, which did not include Dellin Betances, ended with Arolids Chapman, who shut the gate on the Twins with three strikeouts in the ninth.
The Yankees now find themselves in the ALDS for the first time in a five years. It may not feel like they have felt too many frigid winters, but each season that doesn’t last until Halloween passes like dog years.
Forgive the apparent homerism, but you need not be a Yankees fan to squeeze out a smile over Tuesday’s game. With the Bronx booming, Yankee Stadium trembling to “Seven Nation Army” with Judge leading off the bottom of the seventh inning, it just feels right that the Bombers, after a five-year nap from playoff victory, morphed into the epicenter of the sports world for one night.
Whether you love or loathe the Yankees, they’re good for baseball. Much the way Notre Dame, the Dallas Cowboys, and Boston Celtics breathe life into their respective sports, no one can doubt the energy and historical prerogatives that come with a cool, October night on River Avenue.
The Yankees will wake up from a smiling sleep and realize they now must play a 102-win juggernaut in the Indians, a club that literally went 22-0 a month ago, and has been picked by many pundits to win its first World Series since 1948. Cleveland is a team that, by any objective measure, has no flaws, with a lineup that can go run-for-run with the Yanks. The Indians also have a pitching staff led the majors in ERA, shutouts, complete games, walks allowed, runs allowed, and strikeouts, despite the inherent handicap of the DH.
But that story will write itself in the coming days. As far as what went down Tuesday, the greatest franchise in the history of baseball is king of the sport once again.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel