I’m not sure there’s anything that can explain the Twins’ futility against the New York Yankees. Except perhaps a curse.
There has to be a curse, right? How else do you go 2-16 against the Yanks in the postseason since 2004?
And the record-setting 2019 team, which won 101 games and hit 307 home runs, became the first 100-win team to be swept in a division series — by the Yankees, of course.
Steve Rushin at Sports Illustrated explored a possible Twins/Yankees curse, touching on the first game in Twins history, as well as Yankee connections to Rod Carew and Chuck Knoblauch.
The curse may have been there from the beginning.
On April 11, 1961, the Twins, formerly the Washington Senators, took the field for the first time in Yankee Stadium to face the Bronx Bombers in Game 1 of the ‘61 season. On the mound for the Twins, Pedro Ramos, a tough-luck right-hander who had pitched relatively well for some terrible Washington teams.
“On given days the hard-throwing Cuban Cowboy could be as dominant as anyone, and he even managed to flirt with a near no-hitter at the tail end of his tenure in Washington,” according to the Society for American Baseball Research.
Ramos was in fine form that April afternoon because he went the distance and shut out the Yanks on three hits to win 6-0. Mickey Mantle struck out twice and the Twins, backed by extra-base hits from Bob Allison and Earl Battey, chased Whitey Ford from the game in the top of the seventh inning. Perhaps that act, a three-hit blanking of the Pinstripers by an upstart team from Minnesota, was too much for the baseball Gods to handle. Retribution was swift: the Twins were 4-14 against the Yanks that season and Ford won the Cy Young award.
Although Martin will forever be a Yankee, for most of the 1960s he was a member of the Twins. He ended his playing career with the Twins, then worked as a scout, base coach, minor league manager and then managed the Twins in 1969.
Martin was tough on his old club that year, finishing the season with a 10-2 record over the Bombers. The Twins visited New York in May and took 3-of-4 games from the Yankees, then came home to Minnesota in June and swept a three-game set. They split two games in New York after that, and then the Twins swept ‘em again in August, including an 8-3 beat down of all-star pitcher Mel Stottlemyre. The Twins chased Stottlemyre in the first inning, getting extra-base hits from Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.
A franchise-beginning shutout and an ex-Yankee giving his old team hell as Twins manager may have produced a hex. But I don’t think so. If there’s a curse, it likely can be traced to one person: former Twins reliever Ron Davis.
If you ask a certain generation of Twins fan about Davis, the reaction goes something like this: one hand will be placed over the heart, while the other hand reaches out to steady themselves, perhaps grasping for a wall or railing or the person closest to them. That other person, sensing trouble, might call for additional help, like, “Can somebody get this guy a chair?” Once seated, that person, who appeared to be having a heart attack or stroke after he or she was asked about Davis, might then order a stiff drink. And once that first drink has been passed down the hatch, the memories will come flooding back. They aren’t pretty.
The Twins sent Roy Smalley to the Yankees in 1982 in exchange for three players, including Davis and Greg Gagne. To be fair, Davis was 14-2 with a 2.85 ERA in 1979, but after he arrived in Minnesota, his best years were clearly behind him. He had 14 blown saves in 1984, including one of the worst losses in Twins history.
The Twins were horrible in ’82 and ’83, but they showed signs of life in ’84 and were in contention to win the division late in the season. Near the end of the season, the Twins were in Cleveland. Davis served up a walk-off loss on Sept. 27, then the two teams faced each other again the following day. As a young Twins fan, I’ll never forget seeing baseball scores on TV in Portland that showed the Twins were winning 10-0. And I’ll never forget opening the sports section the next morning to see that they lost 11-10. Davis was tagged with the blown save and loss.
When Davis was traded in 1986, former first basemen, Kent Hrbek said the team celebrated, according to Twinkie Town.
“When RD was traded to the Cubs, I don’t think we reacted too well. The charter flight from California to Seattle turned into a party. People got a little goofy. Puck kind of started it by singing ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’ as he got on the bus to the airport. And the singing continued most of the flight to Seattle. Puck went nuts with it. People started laughing at Puck, and when Puck got the floor, he didn’t give up. Harmon Killebrew, who was a TV analyst at the time, said it was the most bizarre thing he’d ever seen in baseball. He said it was like the team had been exorcised of a demon.”
Or maybe the exorcism still needs to take place.