NEW YORK — There is an alternate universe where after Zack Littell gave up two earned runs without recording an out in the fifth inning, and Tyler Duffey got out of the inning but allowed Littell’s runners to score that Rocco Baldelli turned to Trevor May. Or Sergio Romo. Or Taylor Rogers.
He would have been justified in, and perhaps applauded for, doing so. Littell, who is a rookie but has been one of the Minnesota Twins’ best relievers, got tagged with the loss. Duffey, 28, is a more seasoned reliever and has become a go-to for Baldelli in the second half.
Going with more experience after giving up the lead — which would have been May, Romo or Rogers — could have kept it a 5-3 ballgame and allowed the Bombas to stay in the game. Instead, after Miguel Sano hit a home run to close the Yankees’ lead to 5-4, Cody Stashak gave up two solo shots and Kyle Gibson allowed three runs, basically sealing the Game 1 of the ALDS for New York, 10-4.
“There’s no way to know that,” Baldelli said when asked if Littell and Stashak were rattled by the Yankee Stadium crowd. “These are guys we have leaned on heavily throughout the year. We’re going to continue to lean on them heavily. We’re going to see them back out there and throwing in important situations. Because of the way the game played out, one or both of those guys was going to end up in this game pitching in probably an important spot at some point.”
Resilience has been a theme for the Twins all year. Despite all their injuries, and troubles with the bullpen and the starting rotation at times, they didn’t lose three in a row until the second half and lost four in a row only once. The stakes are higher in the playoffs, of course, and Minnesota went 2-4 against the Yankees this year — including that crazy five-hour game that went 10 innings at Target Field.
“We tried to grab those outs early from Littell in the fifth, and it played out the way it played out. But our guys are resilient. Our guys have had outings here and there over the course of the year that didn’t go as planned, and they come right back, and they’re ready to go.”
If Baldelli was concerned about his team’s ability to bounce back from a Game 1 loss, he’s probably more inclined to use May, Romo and Rogers early in this game to keep it close. The downside being that because he has to have a bullpen game at some point — which he’s chosen to do in Game 2 in order to use the day off to allow his relievers more time to recover — he doesn’t want to potentially sabotage both games in New York in order to keep Game 1 close.
“We don’t generally commit to anything early, but I think there’s a chance that we end up running some of our guys that have pitched very late in the game,” said Baldelli when asked if he’d use high-leverage pitchers like May, Romo or Rogers early in games even if the team is tied or down a run.
“We could run them out there, probably still reasonably late in the game, but maybe push them up a little bit. Again, with the five innings we’re going to cover out of the bullpen tonight, we could have seen — we could have ended up seeing something like that. So that is definitely possible.”
But he chose not to. And now the Twins are down 0-1. With another game in Yankee Stadium. A place where they never won a series from 2002-10, which is part of the reason why they now have a major league record with 14 straight postseason losses.
Maybe if he had chosen differently, they could have avoided that distinction and began to cut ties with the ghosts of Twins past.
“We hung in there, obviously, until we didn’t,” said Duffey. “Our guys will be ready for Game 2. I thought it was different than the Wild Card game (in 2017, which the Twins also lost), that was more anxious because it was winner take all. But we can work into this. We put up runs against a really good team. They brought their guys in tonight. They brought in [Aroldis] Chapman up six. That shows that they didn’t want to mess with us. It’s respect.”
The Yankees used their star reliever. The Twins didn’t. And now we will see if it makes a difference as the series progresses.