Jim Souhan
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They watched the scoreboard together, then took the field to celebrate their division championship and a home berth in the playoffs.

They cranked the lids off beers, lit cigars and, perhaps, surreptitiously, celebrated their first-round draw — a team other than the dreaded Yankees.

All of this unfolded Sunday afternoon at Target Field, and unfolded under similar circumstances and in a completely different setting in the Metrodome at the end of the 2006 season.

That day, the Twins learned they had won the division by watching the scoreboard, then partied like there was no tomorrow. Two days later they began their series with the Oakland A’s — aka Not The Yankees — and were swept in three games despite having been baseball’s hottest team for four months, and perhaps the strongest Twins playoff team since 1991.

On Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, the scene was different, just as the Twins’ attitude will have to be.

They lost 5-3 to the Cincinnati Reds in front of zero fans at Target Field as a light rain fell and the grounds crew quickly pulled the tarp over the infield. They walked slowly out of the clubhouse and through the dugout, pitcher Jose Berrios holding the AL Central Division championship banner. They unfurled it and took pictures as a few players held aluminum cans or bat-sized cigars.

They returned to the clubhouse and while players and team officials conducted Zoom interviews, you could hear the thumping of bass and drums.

There is no way to compare a 60-game virus-avoiding sprint to a normal 162-game season, and there was no way to compare this celebration to the one in 2006, when fans remained in the stands and celebrated with their team.

Now it’s this team’s job to ensure there are no comparisons between the 2020 Twins and its playoff predecessors.

That 2006 season provides wisdom, and the turning point in the postseason fortunes that led to 16 straight playoff losses.

The young Twins advanced to the 2002 ALCS. The 2003 and 2004 Twins won Games 1 at Yankee Stadium and came close to taking 2-0 leads before falling in four games — hardly shameful performances.

That 2006 season is when the Twins began backsliding in the playoffs, and that three-game sweep against the A’s began that Sunday night in the Metrodome, with too many players reacting with joy and relief that they didn’t have to face the Yankees.

If the 2020 Twins are to end their streak and advance, they will require more maturity than that.

“I think we’re going to show up ready to rock and give them all we’ve got,” reliever Tyler Duffey said.

Last year, they won 101 games with a deep, powerful lineup that wore out opposing pitchers, fielded well enough, outscored opponents and developed a strong bullpen by the last couple of months of the season.

Then, in three games against the dreaded Yankees, the Twins took terrible at-bats, made two silly fielding mistakes in Game 1 and looked noncompetitive while getting swept.

This group won’t have any excuses for not winning. The Twins finished 36-24 and won the division. They’re playing at home. They get to face the Houston Astros, who have the worst record of any of the American League playoff teams at 29-31. The Twins are 24-7 at home. The Astros are 9-23 on the road.

The Twins need to win a game to end their embarrassing postseason streak, and they need to win a series to generate some sense of organizational progress.

“As you can imagine, this was much different than last year,” reliever Taylor Rogers said of the celebration. “Very 2020 COVID-safe so far. Probably have a few infractions, hopefully we don’t get written up for that. Still fun.

“This is a good step in the direction we want to go. Enjoy this for the time being and have something to tell people about the way we celebrated back in 2020. The mental toughness of this group is off the charts.”

This postseason will require quarantining, masks and up to three weeks in various bubbles. In these playoffs, maturity could make all the difference.