Somewhere toward the latter part of the Yankees’ third-inning onslaught Saturday night — does it really matter exactly when? — Twins manager Rocco Baldelli emerged from the dugout to take the baseball from his beaten reliever, Tyler Duffey.
Right on cue, the Yankee Stadium speakers blared, “Another One Bites the Dust,” by Queen, and Freddie Mercury serenaded the sorry Twins grouped together on the mound. As the Bronx bounced and roared around them, Baldelli’s shell-shocked crew huddled as if seeking shelter from a storm.
Not to worry, though. The Yankees will put them out of their misery soon enough, as Saturday’s 8-2 rout in Game 2 of the Division Series moved Aaron Boone & Co. to within one victory of their second ALCS trip in three years.
They also got to check the one box that had been missing for months, as the slumping Didi Gregorius smacked a grand slam during the seven-run third inning. It was the 12th slam in Yankees postseason history, as well as the first by a shortstop, and now that Gregorius has joined the party, the Twins are that much closer to the October exit.
“Every time you step up to the plate, it’s just not you,” said Aaron Judge, who has reached base safely in seven of his 10 plate appearances, including two singles in the third inning Saturday. “You got all of us, and all the bench, and in the stands. Everybody’s with you, so it’s having that confidence. You got everybody behind you. It makes your job a little easier.”
The Yankees have won 12 straight playoff games against the Twins since 2004, the longest streak by any team versus any opponent. It’s also the seventh time they’ve started the ALDS with a 2-0 lead, and the Yankees went on to sweep the last four occasions (including the Twins twice). The Yankees have outscored the Twins 18-6 in the first two games, and it hasn’t felt that close.
“I know the guys, and it will be throttle down,” Boone said of the Yankees’ effort as the series switches to Minneapolis for Monday’s Game 3. “Hopefully we can go get one.”
That’s a lock, and it won’t take five games, either, as I foolishly predicted on the eve of a playoff matchup that historically holds as much suspense as a trip to the laundromat. Evidently, a 100-win season doesn’t mean what it used to, unless you happen to be the Yankees, Astros or Dodgers, three legit contenders for MLB’s throne.
The Twins? Every few years or so, they rise up to be the plucky Midwest overachievers, then get their expected stomping by the Bronx goliaths.
Game 2 added a new wrinkle, a feel-good story by the name of Randy Dobnak, a former Uber driver who sped through their minor-league system this summer to earn a playoff start at the Stadium.
Dobnak’s promotion is an inspirational tale of perseverance, but you could sense what was coming. With their season on the brink, the Twins went with the Uber rookie (five starts on his resume) over experienced Jake Odorizzi because of Dobnak’s 52.9% ground-ball rate, which they thought would be an asset in the homer-friendly Bronx.
But the Yankees are in full seek-and-destroy mode right now, sporting a healthy, slugger-heavy lineup that isn’t going to be slowed by anyone not named Verlander or Cole. That matchup is destined for the very near future (no offense, Rays) and during the interim, we’ve had the Yankees’ nightly batting-practice sessions, with the Twins’ staff acting as the human tees.
Dobnak’s joyride ended Saturday in the third inning after the Yankees loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. They already had built a 1-0 lead, thanks to DJ LeMahieu’s leadoff double in the first followed by Edwin Encarnacion's laser single, and Dobnak was being haunted by “Uber-Driver!” chants as the Yankees rallied in the third.
“We made a choice,” Baldelli said of picking Dobnak over Odorizzi for Game 2. “And just because things don’t work out, doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about them. But as far as regret, certainly not.”
Removing Dobnak, however, wasn’t going to solve the problem. The inequities between the Twins and Yankees run much deeper than that, so swapping arms was merely a cosmetic solution. Duffey got Giancarlo Stanton on a 350-foot sacrifice fly, but it would get no better for him. Gleyber Torres ripped an RBI single and Gregorius hooked his grand slam inside the rightfield foul pole.
He twisted around in the box, watching the ball’s soaring flight, then flipped his bat from one hand to the other before tossing it away. He later said he knew it was fair but was sort of reflecting on his recent, frustrating at-bats, so the posture was more a sigh of relief than celebration.
“Everybody goes through ups and downs, but the confidence level has always got to stay up,” Gregorius said. “So for me, it’s just focus on my job and try to get better. That’s all I can do.”
So far, this series has been all business for the Yankees, and we don’t expect that to change at Target Field. Two wins separated these two teams during the regular season, but the distance between them, like every other October, would stretch from the Bronx to the Twin Cities.