October 6, 2004. Yankees 7, Twins 6. A Torii Hunter solo shot in the top of the 12th puts the Twins up a run, only for All-Star closer Joe Nathan to cough up the lead in the bottom of the inning.
October 8, 2004. Yankees 8, Twins 4. The Yankees go up in the top of the 2nd and never let go. Jeter, Sheffield, Matsui, and Posada each have a multi-hit game.
In January 2020, the Twins ink the largest free agent contract in franchise history, a 4-year, $92 million pact with third baseman Josh Donaldson. Bringer of Rain. He of the 139 wRC+. Former MVP, 3-time All-Star. A .369 OBP with 219 home runs and a strong defensive reputation. It is the marriage of the NL Comeback Player of the Year with the 101-win team that set the all-time single season home run record the previous year. Donaldson has made the postseason in 7 of the last 8 seasons.
But you can’t win a playoff game in January.
October 9, 2004. Yankees 6, Twins 5. The Twins carry a 5-1 lead into the 8th inning, when Ruben Sierra caps off a Yankees rally with a game-tying 3-run homer. A-Rod seals the deal in the top of the 11th, scoring on a wild pitch.
October 3, 2006. Athletics 3, Twins 2. Cy Young winner Johan Santana appears mortal amidst a 2-dinger night from Frank Thomas.
In February 2018, the Twins make a splash on the eve of Spring Training, flipping deep cut shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios for rotation stabilizer Jake Odorizzi, then further fortify their offense days later by signing first baseman Logan Morrison. It will turn out they aren’t done, reeling in Lance Lynn and his sinker 18 games into Grapefruit League play. While not quite winning the offseason, the Twins show a willingness to buttress their roster wherever and whenever they can in a demonstration of their commitment to improving upon the previous season’s Wild Card Game loss.
But you can’t win a playoff game in February.
October 4, 2006. Athletics 5, Twins 2. Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau knot the game on back-to-back blasts in the bottom of the 6th, but half an inning later, Torii Hunter dives for a ball that rolls to the wall. Mark Kotsay’s inside-the-park home run is decisive for the A’s.
October 6, 2006. Athletics 8, Twins 3. The A’s score four on four hits through three innings, and the Twins never muster a crooked number response.
In March 2017, Byron Buxton explodes into camp, putting up 908 points of OPS in 17 Grapefruit League games. Drafted 2nd overall, Buxton’s five tools immediately won the hearts of scouts, earning him multi-year rankings as the #1 prospect in baseball during his climb up the minor league ladder. Despite an underwhelming debut at age 21, Buxton possesses all five tools: His breathtaking defense and powerful centerfield arm have won him praise for as long as he’s played ball. His .301/.376/.507 slash line across the minors leaves no doubt to his power or contact skills. Yet his speed is considered his greatest tool, with 113 career steals on 144 attempts to date. Scouts say Buxton has the floor of Torii Hunter, the ceiling of Willie Mays. Given his pedigree and spring showing, the MLB career .220/.274/.398 hitter will bat third on Opening Day. Byron Buxton has arrived.
But you can’t win a playoff game in March.
October 7, 2009. Yankees 7, Twins 2. Plating Orlando Cabrera and Joe Mauer in the top of the 3rd gives the Twins hope, but the Yankees tie it in the bottom of the inning and then march to victory.
October 9, 2009. Yankees 4, Twins 3. Denard Span’s base hit scores 2 to put the Twins up 3-1 in the top of the 8th. A-Rod mashes a 2-run tater off All-Star closer Joe Nathan to send it to extras. Mark Texeira’s long ball in the bottom of the 11th is the bow on top.
In April 2014, the first major league April of his career, 30-year-old Chris Colabello dethrones Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett for the Twins’ April RBI crown, with 27. Numbers 23 and 24 come via a two-run four-bagger on his mother’s birthday while she is interviewed in the stands on live television. A ruptured spleen nearly ended Colabello’s story at age 19. The undrafted Division II star spent seven years in the wilderness of Indy ball before jumping at a minor league deal with the Twins. At age 29, he made his rookie debut… and promptly hit .194. But at age 30, he shines in April. There aren’t many diamonds in the rough left for uncovering at age 30. On the other hand, perhaps karma rewards a team willing to give a guy a chance. Perhaps one Cinderella story begets another.
But you can’t win a playoff game in April.
October 11, 2009. Yankees 4, Twins 1. A Joe Mauer single in the 6th scratches across the game’s first run, but A-Rod and Posada go yard in the 7th to claim this one for the Yankees.
October 6, 2010. Yankees 6, Twins 4. Things unravel in the 6th when the Twins’ 3-0 lead becomes a 3-4 deficit, but tying it in the bottom of the inning only guarantees a decisive Yankee home run in the top of the 7th, this time courtesy of Mark Texeira.
In May 2015, the Twins announce they are ready to put four years of 90-loss seasons behind them by rattling off a 20-7 month in which they outscore their opponents by 35 runs, good for a 120-win pace. Eddie Rosario debuts May 6th and homers on the first pitch he sees. Brian Dozier catches fire, generating a 171 OPS+ with 20 extra base hits. Kyle Gibson blossoms, logging a 1.36 ERA across six starts. Rookie manager Paul Molitor is praised for his Baseball IQ, which harmonizes with veteran Torii Hunter’s dance parties to create a clubhouse Zen of focus and fun seemingly destined to lead the Twins to success.
But you can’t win a playoff game in May.
October 7, 2010. Yankees 5, Twins 2. A sac fly in the 2nd plates Delmon Young, but early Twins leads don’t hold against the Yankees, who score one in the 4th, one in the 5th, two in the 7th, and the final death knell in the 9th.
October 9, 2010. Yankees 6, Twins 1. Early Yankee leads are insurmountable against the Twins, as the Yanks score one in the 2nd, one in the 3rd, three in the 4th, and put the final nail in the coffin in the 7th.
In June 2010, Justin Morneau is mashing. He debuted at 23; was named an MVP at 25; at 29, he is having his fourth consecutive All-Star season. Through May, Morneau has put up an OPS of 1.172—over 300 points better than his career to date; over 200 points better than his MVP season; over 100 points better than David Ortiz’s best season. His .377/.493/.679 slash line bests Barry Bonds’s career line on every measure, and falls .012 points of slugging percentage shy of the same for The Babe. Morneau cools only slightly in the heat of June, finishing the month with an OPS of 1.068. The All-Star Break is days away, and Justin Morneau is the best hitter in baseball.
But you can’t win a playoff game in June.
October 3, 2017. Yankees 8, Twins 4. Brian Dozier opens the game with a leadoff bomb and Luis Severino records a single out before he is forced from the game with a 3-0 deficit, but the Yankees immediately tie it in the bottom of the 1st and keep their foot on the gas the rest of the way.
October 4, 2019. Yankees 10, Twins 4. The Bomba Squad goes long thrice, but the Yankees’ five extra base hits carve up the Twins’ pitching staff en route to victory.
In July 2006, Francisco Liriano wins Pitcher of the Month for the second month running. On May 19, he joins the rotation and goes 5 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits and striking out 5. In June, he makes 5 starts, striking out 35 batters in 35 innings while limiting his opponents to 22 hits. On June 30, his ERA is 2.21. This earns him his first Pitcher of the Month honor. In July, he makes 6 starts, this time striking out 55 batters in 41 2/3 innings, again holding his opponents to 22 hits despite throwing nearly 7 more innings. On July 31, his ERA is 1.96. This earns him his second Pitcher of the Month honor. Liriano’s stuff is electric. A fastball he works at 95 mph, 96 when he needs it. A slider that breaks just under the hands. A second slider that darts down and in. A changeup he mixes in for good measure. He is 12-2, his team 61-43. He is unstoppable.
But you can’t win a playoff game in July.
October 5, 2019. Yankees 8, Twins 2. Former Uber driver Randy Dobnak starts for the Twins, but the fairytale is not to be. A 7-run 3rd inning for the Yankees, including a grand slam by Twinslayer Didi Gregorius, is the narrative instead.
October 7, 2019. Yankees 5, Twins 1. The Twins load the bases in the bottom of the 2nd. Miguel Sano pops out. Marwin Gonzalez strikes out swinging. Jake Cave goes down looking. The Twins squander their last best hope.
In August 2019, the Twins hit home runs—more than any single team in any previous month in the history of Major League Baseball. Their 59 long bombs in August are led by Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano, at 8 apiece. Max Kepler finishes the month with 36, leading the team. The Minnesota Twins have the steepest launch angle in baseball, the third hardest exit velocity. They have already been christened the Bomba Squad. They will go on to have 5 players with 30+ home runs, more than any team in the history of Major League Baseball. They will go on to hit 307 home runs, more than any team in the history of Major League Baseball. They will roar into the playoffs with 101 wins, more than any Twins team since the 1965 squad that took a World Series against Sandy Koufax’s Dodgers to seven games.
But you can’t win a playoff game in August.
September 29, 2020. Astros 4, Twins 1. The Twins carry a tie game into the top of the 9th, where Sergio Romo walks in the go-ahead run. Jorge Polanco’s 2-out error increases the damage.
September 30, 2020. Astros 3, Twins 1. A Nelson Cruz double in the 5th scores Marwin Gonzalez but sees Luis Arraez thrown out at the plate. Carlos Correa homers in the 7th to put the Astros up for good.
In September 2006, the Twins cap off a fairytale comeback run with continued September magic. On the 48th game of the season, their 22-26 record places them 12 ½ games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers. The Twins’ June is 19-7, including a 16-for-17 streak. They look up on June 30. They remain 11 games back of the Tigers. The Twins’ July is 18-8, including a 12-for-13 streak. They look up on July 31. They remain 8.5 games back of the Tigers. Their August falls to 16-12, yet the Tigers have their first losing month of the season and the Twins narrow the gap to 5 games entering September. They struggle to find momentum—until they confront the Tigers for a four-game series and take three of them. The Twins win 11 of their next 15. They are still 1 game back of the Tigers. The Twins drop 3 of their next 4. The Tigers drop all 4. They are tied at 95-66. The Tigers lose the last game of the season. The Twins do not. For the first time all season, the Twins lead the division. It is the only day leading the division matters.
But you can’t win a playoff game in September.
In October, the Minnesota Twins are hapless since October 5, 2004, suffering 18 straight playoff losses in that span. It is the longest postseason losing streak in the history of North American professional sports.
All of professional baseball, from batting practice on the backfields during spring training to the first pitch of the season in Low-A to the back-of-the-bullpen arm working long relief in a mop-up situation, is oriented toward one thing: October Baseball. Toward the chance for October heroics. Toward the hope of being crowned World Champions. Thus, when a team proves lifeless for the 18 straight games over 19 straight years that matter most, the season becomes one long waiting game.
The tea leaves have proven inscrutable. There is nothing left to prove in March. No prescient insights into team destiny in May. No foreshadowing bravado in July. The highs of regular season achievement have hit their high-water mark—the imagination has begun to falter. No victories in August can taste so sweet as to stave off another playoff sweep. The mind’s eye drifts, looks toward October… If this is our year, no omens exist that can be trusted. There remains but one proving ground: October Baseball.