The Twins Will Have to Go Through the Yankees, and Yankee Stadium, to Have Playoff Success

Photo credit: Brad Penner (USA Today Sports)

NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium is built like a coliseum, making it unique among major league parks. Fenway has its quirks, like the Green Monster and the Pesky Pole. Wrigley has bleachers for its swaying drunks to sit on. Pittsburgh, Detroit and Cleveland’s fields beautifully display their rebounding downtowns. Unsurprisingly, many parks throughout Major League Baseball are inviting. There are 162 games and they want local fans to return as often as possible, or make it a destination for fans on a baseball road trip.

Yankee Stadium is imposing. It is a giant structure made of limestone, granite and concrete with YANKEE STADIUM written in gold letters on it. It has four decks filled with 50,000 fans, some of whom are hostile to visitors — especially in the upper deck. The lights dim and flicker when one of the Bronx Bombers hit a home run.

“This stadium is a pretty unique venue,” said Rocco Baldelli, who grew up a Boston Red Sox fan and spent most of his playing and coaching career with the Rays.

There’s history here, of course, but Fenway and Wrigley are historic buildings. Yankee Stadium beautiful in its own way, but it doesn’t sit on the water like the parks in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. And Detroit and Cleveland incorporate their significantly smaller skylines exceptionally well.

But Yankee Stadium has a unique gladiatorial feel. The fans are exceptionally smart, and know their opponent’s pressure points. When Jose Berrios gave up long foul balls while his pitch count was climbing, the noise in the stadium didn’t just become deafening — it threatened to crack your skull. When Tyler Duffey briefly stepped off the mound during a particularly trying at-bat, he was mercilessly booed. When Jorge Polanco appeared to lose a routine fly ball in the lights, the noise in the stadium reached a fever pitch as the ball descended.

“Breathing is a big point here,” said Minnesota Twins starter Jake Odorizzi, who spent most of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. “A lot of guys get caught up in the loud noises of Yankee Stadium — you’re playing the Yankees, pinstripes, everything in between.”

There’s bloodlust in the stadium, and fans would like nothing more than to send a team from the upper Midwest and their supporters home thinking they have no chance of beating the Yankees.

Historically they’ve succeeded in doing so.

This isn’t to take away from the Yankees roster. Obviously if they had the talent of the Baltimore Orioles this year, the fans can only do so much to propel them forward. But they’ve been honest about their positive impact on the team, especially in the playoffs.

In many ways, the Yankees look like a better version of the Twins. Both teams have lots of power, but New York has Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Both teams could use an extra starter, but Minnesota became especially shorthanded when Michael Pineda was suspended for PEDs. Both have good bullpens, but Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman have more playoff experience than Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers.

Those differences get magnified, however, in a place like Yankee Stadium.

“This is kind of the pinnacle of playoff baseball in this stadium,” said Duffey. “Pitching here isn’t friendly. It’s great when you do well and it sucks when you don’t.”

That’s not to say that the Twins will never be able to compete in the Bronx. Or even, really, that they’re intimidated. It’s more that they literally haven’t been here very often, especially in the playoffs. Unlike the Red Sox, who had their own “Yankee curse,” they don’t play 19 games against New York — they play them six times, three of them in the Bronx. They’ve only played once playoff game before this series, a Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium in 2017.

“I enjoy it, especially when it gets as loud as it did in the wild card game,” said Max Kepler when asked about the crowd. “I hope it’s like that or louder because it helps me zone in. It’s just white noise to me. I don’t like the stadiums where there’s not many people and you can hear everyone of them shouting stuff. It’s a fun place to play for sure. I love it here.”

Experience will help this team. And if the Twins are a perennial playoff team, they’ll get plenty of it in the Bronx. After all, the Yankees are always a factor, meaning the Twins’ path to the World Series almost certainly will go through Yankee Stadium for years to come.

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