Twins relish rematch against Yankees
Despite going 0-7 vs. New York, AL Central champs pumped
MINNEAPOLIS -- Just three weeks ago, the Twins sat seven games out of first place in the American League Central behind the Detroit Tigers. Now, after an incredible stretch in which Minnesota went 17-4 in the past 21 games, the Twins have earned a trip to the postseason to face the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series, which begins Wednesday.The Twins didn't have much time to prepare for Wednesday's series opener, as they had to make a quick turnaround from Tuesday's 12-inning, 6-5 win to catch a flight to New York.
"I haven't really thought about it just yet," Twins catcher Joe Mauer said of facing the Yankees. "We know we've got our hands full. Any time you play in the playoffs is going to be tough. We're going to enjoy this for a little bit and then get out there [Wednesday]."There was plenty of celebrating to be had in a champagne-soaked clubhouse following Tuesday's tiebreaker, but the Twins are well aware of the challenge that they face heading into New York. The Twins' record against the Yankees this season is hard to ignore. Minnesota did not win a single game against New York all year, going 0-7. That included a four-game sweep at the new Yankee Stadium and three losses at the Metrodome. "Once the playoffs start, though, it's a new series and we know the importance of each game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You can pretty much throw everything else out the window." Despite their struggles this year against the Yankees, the Twins' late-season push has propelled them into the playoffs, and they'll be riding all sorts of momentum as they arrive in the Big Apple. "We're going to keep playing the way we're doing now," said Twins infielder Alexi Casilla, who drove in the winning run in Tuesday's division-clinching victory. "We have [won] 17 games out of 21. We're going to keep doing it." Of the four contests the club played in its inaugural trip to the new Yankee Stadium in May, three were walk-off losses. At the time, the Twins expressed how happy they were to get out of New York, but the club also thought that despite losing, it had proved the Twins could play with the Yankees.
"I think we are a different club than when we went there," said closer Joe Nathan. "At the same time, we had a chance to beat them when we were there last time. We know it's going to be tough. They have players who are ready to play."But now the Twins will get to show whether or not they truly can play with the Yankees as well. "Two weeks ago we were seven out and nobody gave us a chance to win the division," Minnesota's Mike Redmond said after Tuesday's win. "Here we are celebrating and we've got a shot. We've got a shot against anybody. Let's just enjoy this and worry about the Yankees tomorrow." "We plan on going in there and trying to find a way to beat them," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're playing pretty good baseball. So we'll just have to go there and do the best we can. We're not afraid. We're looking forward to getting there and seeing what happens." Brian Duensing is set to start Game 1 of the series, thanks to the Twins having to use their other three starters just to ensure they made it this far. Nick Blackburn would go in Game 2, while Carl Pavano is set for Game 3 back in Minnesota. "I think we're playing great baseball," Pavano said. "It's not about being the better team. It's about playing good baseball." After using seven pitchers after the seventh inning on Tuesday night, the Twins will likely name 12 pitchers to their 25-man postseason roster, which was due shortly after their big win. Expected to be on the roster for Minnesota are four starters: Scott Baker, Blackburn, Pavano and Duensing. The Twins will then have eight pitchers out of the bullpen -- Nathan and left-handers Francisco Liriano, Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares and right-handers Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Bobby Keppel. But while some might seem concerned about the club using so many pitchers in the contest and whether the emotional ride of Tuesday's win could take a toll on them, the Twins are ones who aren't worried about their state heading into this series. "Everyone stepping up and doing their part," Pavano said. "Good things happen to good teams. Everything started clicking at the right time and look at us now, we're headed to the postseason. It's incredible. But our work isn't done yet. We need to keep pushing forward and everyone in this clubhouse is ready to do that."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.