When Aaron Judge stepped to the plate Monday night in the third inning, the bleacher crowd at Target Field briefly launched into an “Over-Rated!” chant.
Talk about a lack of self-awareness.
The 101-win Twins, known as the “Bomba Squad” for hitting a record 307 homers during the regular season, turned out to be as fraudulent as this year’s inflated baseballs. And the Yankees exposed them in every way possible during a three-game sweep of the Division Series, a thorough smackdown completed with Monday’s 5-1 victory, their 13th straight playoff win over the Twins.
The Yankees became the first to erase a 100-win team in the opening round of the playoffs since 1980, when the Royals did the same to them in the best-of-five ALCS. They made it look easy this time, taking the first two games in the Bronx by an aggregate score of 18-6 before ending the Twins’ season in especially painful fashion on their home turf.
The chief antagonist was Luis Severino, who sucked the life out of the building early by escaping a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the second inning.
“That was unbelievable,” Zack Britton said. “It just showed his mentality when his back is against the wall.”
If that didn’t give the Target Field crowd of 41,121 an idea of what they were in for, the Yankees kept piling on the aggravation, with Severino stranding two more Twins in the third inning by blowing a 98-mph fastball past a swinging Mitch Garver.
Gleyber Torres performed the duty of party crasher when he ambushed Jake Odorizzi’s first-pitch fastball for a solo homer in the second inning and Brett Gardner extended the lead to 2-0 in the third when he slapped a two-out single past a diving Miguel Sano.
The extra burn? Right before that pitch, Sano had moved three steps to his left, only to have Gardner chop a ground ball to that vacated spot.
This entire Division Series was like that for the Twins — wrong place, wrong time. It also would make a great book title for their entire playoff history against the Yankees, who apparently will be the Twins’ daddies for as long as people play this sport.
“This is what we've been working all year for — to be in this position,” Gardner said. “We still have a lot of work left, but this is one of the steps along the way."
Game 3 was more than just the clincher. It was a reminder of where these two clubs reside in MLB’s food chain, and the Yankees, with their usual businesslike efficiency, kept twisting the knife Monday night.
In the fifth inning, it was Torres’ turn again after a two-out walk to Nelson Cruz put runners on first and second and stirred a renewed hopeful murmur in the stands. When Eddie Rosario followed with a hard grounder through the right side, it sparked another loud cheer — until everyone saw Torres, shifted into shallow rightfield, corral the ball with a sliding stop in the grass.
From about 70 feet away, Torres delivered a one-hop throw that DJ LeMahieu expertly scooped to beat Rosario’s headfirst dive. That play was as good as it gets, and Judge matched the effort with his own gem by chasing down Sano’s long drive in the sixth. The Yankees were clinging to a 2-0 lead, and after Luis Arraez’s one-out double, Sano got the fans excited again with a loud liner to rightfield. But Judge was on it from the jump, sprinting back before reaching up to make a full extension, over-the-shoulder grab on the run. Judge needed every inch of his 6-7 frame and the length of his arm to rob Sano.
When the next batter, Marwin Gonzalez, lifted a sky-high fly ball in Judge’s direction again, another roar went up — only to have Judge calmly retreat to the warning track, camp under the ball and wait for the third out.
“"We've been doing it all year,” LeMahieu said. “This is nothing new. It seemed like every time we needed to make a great play, we made it. No matter who it is out there, they're going to get the job done."
Seriously, didn’t we all know the ending before this series began? It was basically a remake of a classic film, just performed with different actors, over and over again.
Even so, there were a few amusing updates to the script, one of the last provided by Cameron Maybin, who pulled a rainbow homer inside the leftfield foul pole in the ninth. Maybin entered in the seventh as a defensive replacement for Giancarlo Stanton and with one swing flexed more muscle than the intimidating G had in this Division Series.
And the end? The Twins put two runners on in the ninth inning against Aroldis Chapman — again giving their fans a glimmer of hope — just to see Didi Gregorius make a spectacular diving grab of Polanco’s bullet. The final nail came courtesy of a 100-mph fastball that Cruz stood and watched.
How Twins of him. As the Yankees bounced up and down around Chapman, celebrating their upcoming trip to the ALCS, what amounted to a first-round bye was over. Now they will wait to see who emerges from the Astros-Rays series, which continues Tuesday night at the Trop.
“"I'm just happy to be in this next round,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “Whoever happens to be there — I'm not rooting for anybody. I was rooting for us to get here. So obviously we'll wait and see who we play next and take our shot."