Twins ready for another shot at Yankees

Twins ready for another shot at Yankees

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick Punto spent the offseason thinking about his baserunning blunder in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees last October.

With the Twins trailing by one run to New York in the eighth inning and facing the possibility of elimination from the postseason, Punto rounded third base on what he thought was a single up the middle with no outs. Instead, shortstop Derek Jeter fielded the ball and made a quick throw to home, allowing catcher Jorge Posada to make the tag -- preventing the tying run from scoring and seemingly ending the Twins' chances of a comeback.

That kind of blunder perhaps epitomizes the struggles the Twins have faced against the Yankees in recent seasons. Minnesota always seems close to knocking down that vaunted team from the Bronx yet ends up falling just short.

But while the Twins' struggles to beat the Yankees in the postseason have been well-documented, the club is getting another shot at turning its luck around.

The AL Central-champion Twins will host the Yankees for Game 1 of the ALDS on Wednesday at Target Field, as the two teams kick off the best-of-five series. The contest will be televised on TBS and MLB.TV with a first pitch at 7:37 p.m. CT.

"It's so exciting for me personally just to be in this situation," Punto said after Sunday's regular-season finale against the Blue Jays. "That year went so fast. Here we are again, postseason against the Yankees. It's exactly what we've all wanted, to get another shot at those guys, and we've got it."

After clinching the AL Central title on Sept. 21, the Twins had to wait until Sunday afternoon to find out who they would be hosting in the first playoff game at Target Field. The Yankees and Rays entered the day tied atop the AL East standings, and the Twins were set to host whichever team finished second in the race.

New York had to win on Sunday and hope Tampa Bay lost in order to have a chance at the AL East title and clinch home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. But the Yankees lost to the Red Sox, 8-4, ensuring a Wild Card berth and a trip to the Twin Cities for another matchup with the Twins on Wednesday.

Minnesota has faced New York in the first round in three of its past four playoff appearances. The Twins lost all three of those series to New York, winning a total of just two games over that span.

In 2009, the Twins were winless against the Yankees. They lost all seven regular-season matchups and then got swept out of the first round in three games by New York.

"We're more experienced, we're a year older," said Twins center fielder Denard Span. "I think we're a year hungrier, too. ... We've been through this. I think everybody went through the feeling last year of going home after losing to the Yankees. I think nobody wants to go through that. We don't want the season to end. We're going to go out there and try to give them our best shot."

There are a few key differences for the Twins as they get set to face the Yankees in the postseason once again. One is that they'll have home-field advantage. In each of their previous three series, the Twin had to open up the series at Yankee Stadium where they've endured their share of difficulties.

And unlike in 2009, the club won't be enduring a quick turnaround from a Game 163. Last year, the Twins clinched the AL Central title in a thrilling 12-inning victory over the Tigers on a Tuesday night, only to fly to New York right after the victory and face the Yankees the following day.

"I think if you look at the way we went into it [last year], we used a lot of our bullets and gas trying to get there with a minimal amount of days off," said starter Carl Pavano. "We're going to be better rested. Obviously that will help. We were able to line up our rotation the way we wanted it, so that's going to help. I think those are all things that are definitely going to work for us."

Left-hander Francisco Liriano will take the mound in Game 1 for the Twins on Wednesday, while left-handed ace CC Sabathia is scheduled to start for the Yankees.

The Twins also have the rest of their rotation slotted as well, with Pavano getting the start in Game 2 on Thursday at Target Field and left-hander Brian Duensing in line to start Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

"They have a very good team and they're playing well in their new stadium," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. "It's a stadium we haven't seen very much, with the exception of three games. We're looking forward to playing a good team. They're very well managed with [Ron] Gardenhire and it's going to be a fun series."

The Twins had a losing record against the Yankees (2-4) during the 2010 regular season. They dropped two of three games to New York both on the road and at home. But Minnesota did accomplish one big thing during the regular season, picking up its first win in the Bronx since the 2007 season when Jason Kubel hit an eighth-inning grand slam off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on May 16.

Both of the Twins' series against the Yankees took place back in May, and the club has played its best baseball after the All-Star break this season. There are also a number of new faces on the Twins this season, including Jim Thome, J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, who have not experienced the history of postseason struggles vs. New York.

"Whatever's happened in the past is the past," Thome said. "You have to look to the present and also try to be positive in that end. We're excited to be in this position."

And perhaps there might be one more advantage to playing against the Yankees in the first round.

"I'd much rather play at night," said Twins catcher Joe Mauer, referring to the fact that his team will get to host night games vs. New York. "It was tough to see today [with the shadows at Target Field]. Definitely would rather play at night than 3 o'clock or 1 o'clock."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.