MINNEAPOLIS -- There was an undertone of desperation to the way the Twins and their fans tried to change -- to overwrite -- the narrative of their recent, extremely unsuccessful history with the Yankees as Game 2 of this ALDS approached on Thursday night.
Before the game, on the immense new big screen that hovers over left-center, the team played what was supposed to be an inspirational video, complete with heraldic music and triumphant clips (although one, strangely, depicted Delmon Young's blast to left during Wednesday night's Game 1 -- a shot that safely fell into the glove of Brett Gardner, on the warning track). "Target Field has been a magical place, but into everyone's life a little rain must fall," the words on the screen read. "You have to believe."
So now this game was framed not just as a game, but a test and a matter of faith, and on Thursday the primary symbol of that faith was a mustache that was grown some months ago as little more than a joke, and adorns the face of Carl Pavano, the Twins' Game 2 starter and the failed former Yankee.
"THE MUSTACHE TAKES THE MOUND," the big screen read. Fans in the Twin Cities -- men, children and women (especially, for some reason, women) -- love Pavano's mustache, and hundreds of them at this game wore versions of it, like talismans, thin black caterpillars with a gummy substance on the back stuck to sweaty, hopeful lips.
The mustache has worked well for Pavano. It has given him a way to connect with fans without having to put himself out there very much, aside from his pitching. At 34, Pavano can be as cranky as he always was -- late Wednesday night, when TV crews approached him for a few words, he'd grumbled something and escaped out the clubhouse door with his boots in his hands before the cameras' lights had been switched on -- but now, unlike during his lost four years with the Yankees during which his grouchiness only worsened the public and media's view of him, he is healthy and he has a mustache, and that made him something in which to believe. "We have a stabilizer, a guy that's not going to get overwhelmed in a huge game today," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said a few hours before first pitch.
Pavano, the idea was, pitched very well in his last playoff outing against the Yankees -- in Game 3 of last year's ALDS -- and had made only two bad pitches, which the Yankees had turned into homers and an eventual win. "I feel like if I go out there and give that same effort, I think we will have a good chance to win [the] ballgame," he said. The other idea for the Twins and their fans to believe in was that Andy Pettitte, the all-time postseason wins leader, would not be the Andy Pettitte he always has been, because of his ongoing recovery from a groin strain and a few shaky late-season outings.
CC Sabathia, when asked about that latter concept, seemed almost amused. "Andy Pettitte is the best pitcher in the playoffs in the history of baseball," he said. "So I think our rotation stacks up pretty good against anybody."
This is where ideas and beliefs run directly into reality, as they did once again on Thursday, in yet another postseason win by the Yankees over the Twins -- this time, by the score of 5-2, putting them one game from a second straight ALCS. The reality is that even though the Twins have a new ballpark, with fun things like trees in centerfield and pretty good players who wear mustaches, and even though their payroll is now about $97.6 million (up from $65.3), that's still less than half of the Yankees' payroll. The reality is that the Yankees can afford to every year add big-money players like Curtis Granderson in the off-season, and at the deadline trade for highly-paid stars like Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood.
Granderson, Berkman and Wood all played significant roles on Thursday. Granderson went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Wood threw a perfect, two-strikeout eighth inning. Berkman hit a fifth-inning home run off Pavano, and then a RBI double in the seventh, the point at which the larger narrative that has again and again defined Yankees-Twins matchups -- the Twins take a lead and start to think that this is the game in which things change, the Yankees invariably wear them out and track them down -- kicked in. For a moment, after Berkman's double, Gardenhire tried to change the story to make it about Hunter Wendelstedt, the home plate umpire with whom Gardenhire has a testy history and who on the preceding pitch called ball two on what clearly looked as if it should have been strike three. Gardenhire jawed at Wendelstedt, and got ejected. To be fair, Wendelstedt's strike zone was erratic all night.
In the end, though, it probably wasn't Wendelstedt who lost the game for the Twins, and it wasn't mustaches and believing that was going to win it. When the stadium P.A. system blared Don't Stop Believin' heading into the top of the eighth, it was almost cruel. The narrative remained the same. Pavano was the same as he had been last year -- very solid, but not good enough. Pettitte was the same as ever, allowing two runs on five hits over seven innings. "A couple of things didn't go our way," Gardenhire said afterwards. "That's the way it is in these games."
"We've got nothing to lose now," Gardenhire added. "We're in the hole. We have put ourselves in the hole and the Yankees have put us in a hole and we have to try to dig ourselves out and we will do the best we possibly can. And [Game 3 starter Brian] Duensing on the mound, we kind of like that."
So the Twins "kind of like" the starter on whom they're counting to initiate their charge back from an 0-2 deficit -- a feat that only five of 59 teams have accomplished in five-game series in baseball history. I was thinking about that as I walked up the stairwell from Gardenhire's postgame news conference, and realized that something had become stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I looked at my sole: on it was a thin black caterpillar of a thing, mangled and discarded. A Pavano mustache.
After another loss to the Yankees, crushing in that no matter how many different things the Twins try the same narrative arc persists -- they have now lost 11 straight postseason games, eight of them against New York -- there's not much more room for faith in this series. Reality has taken over.