The last time the Minnesota Twins won a playoff game, Shannon Stewart knocked in Michael Cuddyer for the go-ahead run, Jacque Jones homered, and Johan Santana threw seven scoreless innings as the Twins beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS. The next night, Hideki Matsui singled off J.C. Romero to score Derek Jeter in the 12th inning, and that was that for the next 15 years (and counting): The Twins have somehow found a way to lose every single postseason game since, one of sports’ cruelest and most unlikely streaks.
After Monday’s 5-1 Yankees win to complete the series sweep, Minnesota has now lost 16 straight playoff games (13 of them to the Yankees), easily an MLB record and tying the 1975–1979 Chicago Blackhawks for the most consecutive postseason losses in major North American sports.
Those Blackhawks, you can kind of understand; they weren’t very good, and the NHL was and is set up so not-very-good teams make the playoffs. (In the ‘70s, 12 teams made the postseason in an 18-team league). But this is baseball! You have to be pretty decent to win your division, and even the worst teams win a third of their games. And these Twins were much more than decent: they won 101 games and hit more home runs than any team in history and lost three consecutive games just once in the regular season, and none of it mattered as they were run out of October in straight sets, just like they have been every time they’ve been good over the last decade and a half. Different players—for a sense of scale, this losing streak roughly corresponded to and has now outlasted the careers of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau—same Ls. How on earth does this happen?
“We were outplayed for three games, and it’s OK to acknowledge that,” a philosophical Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “They pitched better than us, they swung the bats better than us, and they defended better than us.”
Well, yes. But that can’t or doesn’t or shouldn’t happen 16 times in a row, not without a franchise having angered the elder gods. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of that patented 21st-century Twins cursedness. And in last night’s elimination game, everything that possibly could have gone wrong for Minnesota, did.
Jake Cave dove optimistically but too early. Eddie Rosario slid unnecessarily, and way too early. Miguel Sano shifted seconds before an RBI single was slapped right where he’d been; Rosario hit right into the shift. Cameron Maybin hit a homered on a swing with an expected batting average of .180; Sano lined out with men on with a swing with an XBA of .700. Gleyber Torres hit a homer that cleared the fence by the margin of the juiced balls. Aaron Judge made multiple catches that he wouldn’t have reached if he were only 6-foot-6 instead of 6-foot-7.
The losses haven’t all been like this—the Twins got soundly knocked around in the first two games of this series—but it’s the sort of Rube Goldberg play-by-play that’s required to keep a streak like this alive.
If there’s hope, it’s that these Twins are young and on the upswing and ostensibly not beholden to the pressures of a losing streak that started when they were in grade school. “We’ll be back,” Baldelli promised, and they will. And maybe next time will be different. Just like this time was supposed to be different.