Jon Krawczynski / AP Baseball Writer, Published April 01 2011
Twins hoping to shake Yankees hex next timeMINNEAPOLIS – On a warm day early in spring training, the Minnesota Twins were taking batting practice at their winter home.
As Denard Span and Danny Valencia were taking cuts, however, the quiet morning would occasionally be interrupted by a security guard’s cell phone ringing. No big deal, except that the phone would play Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” every time it rang.
Several Twins looked at the guard and shook their heads. Then first baseman Justin Morneau heard it from the dugout.
“You need to get a new ring tone for that thing!” he hollered at the guard, who also had a tattoo of the New York Yankees emblem on his right calf.
No matter where the Twins go, they just can’t get away from the Yankees.
As the two-time defending AL Central champions prepare for their second season at Target Field, they do so knowing that all they have accomplished in the last decade – six division titles, MVP awards for Morneau and Joe Mauer, the new ballpark, an expanding payroll – hasn’t amounted to much when they meet up with the Yankees.
The Twins are 2-12 against the Yankees in the postseason since 2003, including two straight sweeps. Manager Ron Gardenhire, who won the AL manager of the year award for guiding the Twins to 94 victories last season, is 18-57 in his career against them.
Last year, the Twins’ magical run in Target Field ended with a familiar thud, with injuries to Morneau, Mauer, closer Joe Nathan and DH Jim Thome catching up with them against the deep and poised Yankees. After putting up a fight in Game 1 of the ALDS, the Twins faded, unable to come up with the timely hit that Derek Jeter and Co. always seem to find.
“It’s frustrating because you get to the playoffs and it seems like it ends quick,” Mauer said. “And it’s frustrating and disappointing when you don’t have guys like Nathan and Morneau to help you out.”
They’re both back this year.
Morneau appears to be ready to go after missing the last three months of the season with a concussion and Nathan returns after missing the entire year because of Tommy John surgery.
Other than that, the Twins didn’t make too many changes. They jettisoned their starting middle infield of shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Orlando Hudson in favor of Alexi Casilla, who has disappointed in his five seasons with the Twins, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was signed from Japan.
The rest of the starting lineup remains intact. The key will be keeping Mauer and Morneau healthy. Mauer, who starts an eight-year, $184 million contract extension this year, had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the offseason and didn’t catch in games for the first three weeks.
Morneau has missed extended time over the last two seasons for a back injury and the concussion, and is still working himself back into form after the long layoff.
“Looking back on last year, it’s pretty amazing we were first to clinch with the things that happened,” Mauer said. “I don’t think people realize that we were pretty beat up. Even though we clinched early, I was dealing with some things, Thome was dealing with some things. Up and down the lineup guys were grinding it out.”