10/10/09 6:15 PM EST
Twins' turf advantageous in Game 3
Dome could spell doom for Yankees' chance at sweep
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
The 87-win Twins are down 0-2 in the best-of-five series and can be eliminated by the 103-win Yanks. If not, Game 4 is slated for Monday at 5:07 p.m. ET. New York is on the verge of winning its first playoff series since defeating Minnesota in the 2004 ALDS.
While all the numbers of futility pile up against the Twins, they should not be counted out. In their past three games, they've played two for the ages -- winning a one-game tiebreaker for the AL Central title, 6-5, over the Tigers in 12 chilling innings at the Dome on Tuesday night.
"This is a tough place to play," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after his team worked out on Saturday. "It seems it's a tough place to play no matter what sport you are playing: football or baseball. The Twins' fans are great, it gets loud. It's a different type of park than what we are used to playing in."
No kidding. In New York on Friday night, Minnesota led, 3-1, in the ninth inning, when Alex Rodriguez tied it with a two-run homer. Two innings later, Mark Teixeira won it, 4-3, with a solo shot, the fourth time the Twins have lost to the Yankees in that fashion at the new Bronx abode this season.
"New York is a tough place to win, because they have a great baseball team there," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on Saturday. "New York is a blast when you're there and the wives are out shopping. It's a great baseball atmosphere. But we like playing at home a lot better than we like playing there, of course."
It's tempting to count Minnesota out at this point, noting its 0-9 record against the Bronx Bombers this season, including three losses in the Dome. But the Twins were three games behind the Tigers with four to play, catching them on the next-to-last day of the season and passing them in game No. 163 by winning 17 of their last 21. It's the first time in Major League history any team has done that.
|Gm. 1||NYY 7, MIN 2||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 2||NYY 4, MIN 3 (11)||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 3||NYY 4, MIN 1||Wrap||Video|
And there's the matter of "Metrodome Magic." Minnesota has incredible home-field advantage in this building, which will close for baseball with the last playoff game, perhaps as early as Sunday, when the temperature outside the Teflon roof is expected to be in the mid-20s.
The Twins, though, are 0-4 vs. the Yanks at home in the ALDS, losing both the 2003 and '04 series here on their own artificial turf. Minnesota was 4-3 at the Dome against New York in 2008, its last win coming in the final game between the two clubs on Aug. 13. The Twins, though, haven't won a postseason game here since Game 1 of the 2002 AL Championship Series against the Angels, a series they lost in five games. They are hoping that that dubious streak comes to an end.
"Being at home, being here, having that extra guy -- having the 10th man, the Metrodome, the noise -- that's huge for us," Minnesota second baseman Nick Punto said. "We play well here. We have to win. We've been there before. We're at home, where we've got our fans. We've got the Metrodome. We've got that atmosphere coming to us. We're excited."
Next year -- and for years to come -- if the Twins survive in October, they'll be playing a game like this downtown in open-air Target Field, which is in the latter stages of construction.
"We're going to have to become a cold-weather team," said David St. Peter, the team's president, "considering all the games we'll be playing there in April, and hopefully in October."
That is what the Twins were before the Dome was opened in 1982, named after former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, also a longtime U.S. senator from Minnesota. In the 21 years after their move from Washington to Minnesota in 1961, the club played at Metropolitan Stadium in nearby Bloomington. The site, which also included the Met Center -- home to the long-gone North Stars of the NHL, who moved to Dallas in 1993 -- is now inhabited by the Mall of America, the largest such edifice in the nation.
0-2 Division Series deficits
The Twins had their success outdoors there, losing the 1965 World Series in seven games to the Dodgers and playing ALCS foils to great Orioles teams, which swept them in 1969 and '70. But the ear-pounding, feet-stomping, carnival-like Dome has been their real home.
The Twins have won the Central title five times in the past eight seasons, and this is the ninth time in their 48-year Minnesota history that they have made the playoffs. They've only won one of their past five playoff series dating back to 2002, but they were victors in the 1987 and '91 World Series, defeating the Cardinals and the Braves, respectively -- each in seven games.
The anomaly is that Minnesota held home-field advantage in each World Series just by virtue of the every-other-year rule in place until 2002. It was 8-0 in the Dome and 0-6 on the road, having come home from road games in St. Louis and Atlanta down 3-2 in each series before winning out.
"These guys use home-field advantage really well," said Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, who is slated to start Game 3 against Twins right-hander Carl Pavano. "They always play us tough here, so we know it's going to be a tough series. Hopefully, we can take care of business, win and move on."
For those who care to remember, the last two games of the 1991 World Series were two of the best Fall Classic games ever played, mimicking the heart-stopping contests of the past four days. The late Kirby Puckett won Game 6, 4-3, (take note of the inning and the score) with a leadoff 11th-inning homer off Charlie Leibrandt that occurred long before the term "walk-off" had been coined.
And Game 7 was won 1-0 when Jack Morris completed a 10-inning seven-hitter, besting John Smoltz. The winning run was scored off closer Alejandro Pena when Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden with a single over a drawn-in infield.
Thus, the Twins have faced elimination before coming back to this building when the stakes were much higher than they will be on Sunday night.
"You have to go out and get it done on the field, no matter the noise or the venue," Gardenhire said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win in New York by getting some more big base hits, and we just didn't do it. We've done pretty good up to this point, getting here and getting to the playoffs. There's mystique about the Yankees winning in New York and us winning in the Dome. But if you don't produce, all that mystique doesn't really matter much, does it?"
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.