NEW YORK – The Twins’ failures against the Yankees during the 2000s were easily explainable. The Twins were the lesser team.
Tonight at Yankee Stadium, a new edition of the Twins will face the made-over Yankees, and yet the Twins face a familiar challenge. They are again the inferior team.
The Yankees scored more runs and allowed far fewer than the Twins this season. The Yankees won more games and will play at home, where they swept the Twins less than two weeks ago.
New York will start Luis Severino and hope he can hand a lead to a deep, hard-throwing bullpen that has easily handled the Twins lineup. Severino’s ERA this season, 2.98, is better than any current Twin who pitched more than 32 innings.
If the Twins have any clear advantage entering Tuesday night’s game, it would be that their starting pitcher, Ervin Santana, is far more experienced than Severino. If that experience advantage translates into Santana displaying more composure on the mound, the Twins will have a chance, and Santana spent Monday sending signals that he couldn’t be more relaxed were he holding an umbrella drink.
Santana smiled on his way into the press conference room. He cracked jokes in two languages. Then, asked about his 0-5 record at new Yankee Stadium, Santana said this:
“So tomorrow is going to be 1.”
Santana is typically friendly and intentionally uninteresting. If you wanted to list the Twins most likely to predict victory in Yankee Stadium, Santana would be tied for last with every other Twin. Brash speech is not in the clubhouse DNA.
Santana is either extremely confident or feels the need to demonstrate confidence to his teammates. Or both. And the Twins will need his leadership and savvy to finally dispatch the franchise that ruined so many of their Octobers.
Santana earned the right this season to express confidence. He ranked second in the major leagues in innings pitched. He totalled his highest innings count since 2011. At 34, he dramatically reduced the number of hits he allows. In 2017, he allowed 7.5 hits per nine innings. That is easily the lowest total in a big-league career that began in 2005.
Santana doesn’t offer much when asked about his pitching effectiveness and strategies, but he often followed a time-honored pattern: Get ahead with his fastball, periodically back hitters off the plate with inside pitches, and finish off at-bats with an effective slider.
“A big part of Ervin’s game is being able to command his fastball,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I think he makes guys uncomfortable, and he’s not afraid to pitch in to righties or lefties.”
At the end of what might have been his most impressive season, Santana, like his team, will have to make his Yankee Stadium experience irrelevant.
For his career, he is 6-10 with a 5.66 ERA against the Yankees. His ERA at new Yankee Stadium is 6.43.
In his last start in the Bronx, Santana gave up a home run to Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. In 2015, Santana gave up two home runs to Greg Bird, then called new Yankee Stadium “a joke.”
The right field foul pole at The Stadium is 314 feet from home plate. A righthander like Santana can make a good pitch and watch it scrape over the wall, 315 feet away, for a home run. But it is always a mistake to complain about conditions that are the same for both teams, and Santana seemed determined on Monday to suppress bad Bronx memories.
Monday, before the Twins worked out at the newish ballpark, Santana tweeted a famous quote: “Anybody who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”
Contrary to recent history, the Twins don’t require a miracle to win Tuesday night. They do need Santana to pitch like the leader of their staff, and not like so many Twins who have allowed Yankee Stadium, new or old, to establish residence between their ears.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org