NEW YORK – As a general rule of thumb, sequels are not artistic successes. Derivative, formulaic and often predictable, their purpose mostly is to squeeze whatever life may have been left in the original. Did we really need Paul Blart, Mall Cop II?
This brings us to Twins-Yankees XI, which made Paul Blart, Mall Cop II look like Citizen Kane. By now you know the drill: Minnesota takes the lead, only to have New York come storming back in a plot development out of Rambo 47, or whatever number we’re on.
No, the Twins did not win Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium Friday night, not even after taking a 2-0 lead. They did not win even though they hit three home runs. They lost, 10-4. They have lost 11 straight postseason games to the Yankees. They scored first in 10 of them.
Their pitchers threw 193 pitches in eight innings, a massive monument to inefficiency. Since 1988, when pitch tracking data became available, the Twins in ALDS Game 1 threw more pitches in eight innings of a postseason game than any team did except the Rockies in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series, a 13-1 horror show.
At a running time of 4 hours, 15 minutes—four minutes short of binge-watching Scary Movie 5, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2—it was the longest postseason game ever in which the home team did not bat a ninth time.
If the Twins are going to put an end to this drivel, they are going to have to change their game plan. They are going to have to stop thinking the Yankees are going to chase breaking balls that don’t look like strikes and actually pound the strike zone. They are going to have to stop this passive-aggressive posture. Catcher Mitch Garver, who was behind the plate for all 193 of the pitches, conceded it was time to change.
“They didn’t swing much,” Garver said. “The thought coming in was that they were going to swing a lot more. They did swing at those pitches when we played them in the [regular season] series. That’s something we are going to have re-adjust and make changes to our game plan or refine it.”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had to answer all week to the “We’ve seen this movie before” line of questioning. At least nobody compared him to Red Klotz, who ran the Washington Generals. Baldelli insisted his group of Twins neither knew nor cared about this history. After all, his team had set the all-time home run record and won 101 games, more than any team in franchise history except the 1965 Twins. He sounded convincing.
And then Game 1 happened. Baldelli for some reason pulled his best pitcher, Jose Berrios, after just 88 pitches and four innings of work with the game tied at 3. It had been almost three months, since July 31, that Berrios threw so few pitches.
“I felt good,” Berrios said. “I knew I still had something in the tank. But Rocco is my manager. That’s his decision and I respect it.”
Said Baldelli, “We didn't make all the plays behind him. It did make it tough. We had to get some extra outs. We had to throw a lot more pitches. So he did have to work because of it and probably shortened the outing a little bit, which caused us to have to go to the pen and have to cover some more innings. So it's all related.”
Oddly, Baldelli was in a hurry to put the game in the hands of Zack Littell, 23, Tyler Duffey, 28, and Cody Stashak, 25, none of whom had ever pitched in a postseason game. Twelve batters later, the Yankees led 7-4 and the game was as good as over.
What also seemed odd was when Baldelli told his Game 2 and Game 3 starters of their assignments: during Game 1. Baldelli had said before the game that he knew with some certainty whether Jake Odorizzi or Randy Dobnak would start Game 2, but that he would wait until after the game to announce it. Fair enough. But what wasn’t known then was that even the pitchers didn’t know.
Asked after Game 1 when he was told he was starting Game 3, Odorizzi said, “During the game.”
Sometime during Game 1 Dobnak left the dugout.
Asked if knew why he was being held until Game 3, Odorizzi said, “No. It probably has something to do with the data.”
Correct. Odorizzi is a flyball pitcher. Drobnak is a groundball pitcher. The Twins are terrified of the Yankees getting baseballs airborne at Yankee Stadium. But sorry, nothing in the course of Game 1 should have swung the decision. Just let your All-Star pitcher know when he’s taking the ball, instead of letting him hang all week.
Dobnak, 24, is a great story. He attended Division II Alderson-Broaddus College in West Virginia, started this year in A ball and was so sure he wasn’t going to see the majors that he scheduled his wedding for late September after the minor league season was over, and once drove an Uber car for some extra cash.
He pitched nine times for the Twins with a 1.59 ERA, but he hasn’t thrown more than 78 pitches in a big league game. Dobnak began this season pitching in a game in front of 1,345 people in Fort Myers, Fla. Now the Twins are giving him the ball in the loud cauldron that is Yankee Stadium in October, a cauldron that scalded Littell, Duffey and Stashak. The assignment tells you how much the Twins trust him.
Littell managed to throw only one ball out of nine over the plate before he was pulled. Asked how he felt entering a 3-3 tie at Yankee Stadium, Littell said, “I felt good. I’ve had moments before when I didn’t feel in control, but I felt in control. I felt confident. I just didn’t execute.”
Said Garver of the bullpen’s meltdown, “We just didn’t execute. We could have been playing in front of 2,000 people and it probably would have gone the same way. That [atmosphere] wasn’t it.”
The Yankees took eight walks. (Four of them scored.) They fouled off 47 pitches. Twins pitchers just didn’t pitch aggressively enough. Said Berrios, who threw too many curveballs and changeups that were balls right out of his hand, giving New York easy takes, “They have power like we do. You don’t want to leave a ball up.”
Minnesota proved it has the thump in its lineup to hang with the Yankees. Maybe Baldelli has to get the game into the hands of a veteran like Sergio Romo in the middle innings. Maybe he has to move up hard-throwing rookie Brusdar Graterol in the hierarchy, though Graterol, who looked fearless in the eighth in attacking hitters with his 100-mph heater, hasn’t pitched in back-to-back games all year. Closer Taylor Rogers has secured as many as seven outs in a relief outing this year and maybe he has to go to such lengths in Game 2.
Whatever the twist, Baldelli and his pitchers need to rewrite the script. They are not responsible for all 11 consecutive losses to the Yankees in the postseason, but they have inherited the responsibility to change the narrative quickly.