MINNEAPOLIS – This stat should be taken with the caveat that it’s still very early in the season to make any big statements about any team.
However, that shouldn’t take away from the effect of the following words, given the recent (and not-so-recent) history between these teams: The Minnesota Twins won the season series against the New York Yankees for the first time since. 2001.
Long in the punching bag for the Yankees in both the regular season and the postseason, these Twins slid back in a way few of their predecessors ever did. It began with the first round of the nine in the Bronx two weeks ago and continued on Tuesday, when the Twins took the lead, lost it — but then leaped forward relentlessly with late teammates Byron Buxton and Trevor Larch to claim a 6-2, clinching series victory.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Paxton said, visibly shocked. “Twenty-two years? Twenty-two years? I was six!”
“That I felt more comfortable hearing that afterwards. I don’t know. It’s kind of like having that monkey on his back; I know we’ve talked about it a lot over the last few years, about going to Yankee Stadium, playing for the Yankees. It feels like that monkey thing.” Off his back for sure now.”
They couldn’t have done it without the seven-run starting efforts of Monday’s Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan, who on Tuesday became the first Twins player since 1979 to win each of his first five starts in a regular season. The Twins have won nine straight games started by Ryan, dating back to last August.
This kind of starting pitching has paved the way for heroics like that by Buxton, who launched his fourth home run of the season into the left field bleachers on Nestor Curtis’ 98th and final pitch. Throwing his bat aside in one fluid motion, Buxton pointed flatly to his hideout and began trotting, embodying the energy of fans in the building who hadn’t seen swings or performances like that – against such opponents – for a long, long time.
“For me, I can’t remember the last time I played and won a series against them,” said Buxton. “It’s something we have to build on.”
Truth be told, it could be considered defeatist in a way for a fanbase and a region to make such a big deal of one regular season series win over one opponent, created by the Twins splitting a four-game series at Yankee Stadium from April 13-16, and now, Their victories are in the first two of these three matches played at Target Field.
Truth be told, there is probably some subtlety to that. But it’s hard to blame them given the history of this matchup, even if the 2002, 12 or 22 editions of these teams had little or no impact on the 2023 matches.
The Twins have lost 16 of their last 19 games to a Yankees team that entered this season. Since last season’s series victory, the Bronx Bombers took the Twins out of the playoffs in 2003, ’04, ’09, ’10, ’17 and ’19, which includes a massive part of Minnesota’s record-breaking 18-game losing streak in the postseason.
Year after year, whether in the regular season or the playoffs, there was some perception of the Yankees as the big-market bogeyman that would stress that over the Twins. But perhaps this year’s results are a small step toward rectifying that, however early in the regular season, making the Yankees just another opponent against whom the Twins can score nine runs and hold a late lead.
“I think we feel confident in how good we are as a team,” said catcher Ryan Jeffers. “We are not the teams of the past who are intimidated by the big name teams. In all aspects of the game we play really clean.”
The Twins have to start somewhere on their ultimate goal of winning playoff games — and they’ll certainly see more Yankees-type teams if they make it that far.
Within the club, this is still where the sights are set.
“There may be some people, whether it’s fans or maybe people within the organization, who are particularly pleased with the way this series has gone so far,” said manager Rocco Baldelli. “But we have a lot of games to play [beyond a] Late April series against the Yankees.
“We expect greater accomplishments from our group this year than from this series.”
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