The Yankees’ playoff success against the Twins has become a bit of a meme at this point. Since losing Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS to Minnesota, the Yankees have since beaten them in 13-straight postseason games, a span that covers four different Division Series matchups and a Wild Card Game, all of which the Yankees have advanced from, across a span from 2004 to 2019.
On paper, the most recent of those matchups — the 2019 ALDS — seemed a fascinating one. In 2019, both the Yankees and Twins put in excellent regular seasons, winning 103 and 101 games respectively. Minnesota also had an offense that could keep pace with the Yankees. The two teams went back and forth all year in home run terms, both breaking the single-season record for a team, with the Twins just coming out in front 307 to 306.
In the end, that series ended up like the other ones before it, thanks in large part to a Game 2 victory, and an exclamation point of a grand slam.
Final Score: Yankees 8, Twins 2
Game MVP: Didi Gregorius
The Yankees had taken the series opener, winning 10-4. While Minnesota had taken an early 2-0 lead, and had the score even through the top of the fifth, the Yankees broke the game open with seven total runs over the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, getting the series off to a strong start.
In Game 2, the Yankees sent Masahiro Tanaka to the mound. By this point, Tanaka was starting to earn his reputation as a playoff performer. He had been excellent throughout the 2017 run, and was the lone Yankee winning pitcher in the team’s 2018 ALDS defeat. While he put on a pair of runners in the first, he smoothed things over by inducing an inning-ending double play.
Tanaka’s opponent was Randy Dobnak, who was an interesting story. He had come somewhat out of nowhere to post a 1.59 ERA in 28.1 innings, and allowed just two runs in 16.1 innings over three starts to end the regular season. Dobnak had gone undrafted out of Division II college Alderson Broaddus University, and it took a run in indy ball to get him noticed and sign a minor league deal with the Twins. Dobnak had also notably spent time as an Uber driver during offseasons, leading to the Yankee Stadium crowd chanting “Uber” at him during Game 2 — a bit of a lame thing to do, to be honest. However, the Yankees’ offense welcomed him to the postseason in a much more palatable way, by scoring off him. Edwin Encarnación got things rolling with a first inning RBI single that scored DJ LeMahieu.
Two innings later, following two 1-2-3 frames from Tanaka, the two, three, and four spots for the Yankees were due up in the third. They quickly loaded the bases with Aaron Judge singling, Brett Gardner walking, and Encarnación adding his second single of the day. That chased Dobnak from the game, as he left responsible for all three runners. Against Twins’ reliever Tyler Duffey, a Giancarlo sacrifice fly lineout and a Gleyber Torres single made it 3-0, before the bases got reloaded when Gary Sánchez was hit by a pitch. That brought Didi Gregorius to the plate.
After a couple very good seasons, which saw him get MVP votes in 2017 and ‘18, Gregorius wasn’t having the best of 2019. He had missed nearly half of the season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery that he underwent during the previous offseason. As you should expect, Gregorius looked like a man who had been out a while when he came back, and put up just a 84 wRC+ upon return. While he spent a lot of time in the previous two seasons batting in a key spot in the order, he was down in the eight hole in this game. Add in that he was set to become a free agent after the season, and Gregorius was in an interesting spot in his career. While we know now that what awaited us was Didi leaving, before that, we did get a memorable moment for the road. On a 1-2 pitch, Gregorius broke the game open in a big way, sending a Duffey pitch into the second deck in right field.
The Yankees would add one more run before the inning was over, batting around before a Brett Gardner RBI single made it 8-0.
Minnesota would get on the board in the fourth after Mitch Garver drove home a run with a single. That really ended up being the only blemish against Tanaka, who would depart after a 1-2-3 fifth inning. In his five frames, Tanaka allowed one run on three hits and a walk, while striking out seven.
After that, the Yankees’ bullpen didn’t have too much trouble. Minnesota did get another run off Jonathan Loáisiga in the ninth, but it was too little, too late, as the Yankees won 8-2. Two days later, they finished things off with a 5-1 win at Target Field to sweep the series and advance to the ALCS.
Some day, the Twins will beat the Yankees in a playoff game again. Maybe. But that day is not for another few months at the very least, so long live the streak.