The Minnesota Twins had to feel good about their Wild Card Series with the Houston Astros. On the opposite end of the bracket from their postseason nemesis, the New York Yankees, the Twins were facing a team that looked eager for the season to end at a place where they had compiled a 24-6 record this season.
That tune has changed just nine innings into their best-of-three series with the Astros. With a 4-1 loss to Houston on Tuesday, the Twins set a North American sports record with their 17th straight postseason loss and confirmed that they are in their own heads.
Of course, this wasn't the case when the game began. Even in a first-inning rally where the Twins loaded the bases and couldn't score, they took great at-bats, working the count and sticking to their game plan.
The plan even produced an early lead as Max Kepler, full of optimism and hope, sprinted around the bases to help the Twins draw first blood in the series. Handed the lead, Rocco Baldelli deployed his bullpen which went smoothly until the seventh inning.
As Tyler Duffey picked up the first two outs in the inning, things went south once the Astros tied the game on a George Springer single and the ghosts of postseason's past began to set in.
Once the Astros tied the game the mood changed. The lineup known as the Bomba Squad was making Framber Valdez look like Roger Clemens and Byron Buxton seemed eager to play the role of Torii Hunter, swinging wildly at anything that came to the plate.
Even Baldelli seemed desperate to end the streak by trotting out players that had no business in the game. Mitch Garver and his .167 batting average were called upon in the bottom of the seventh inning. Baldelli's faith was rewarded with a strikeout that included three strikes looking.
The bullpen was also a miss as Baldelli went to a struggling Sergio Romo in the top of the ninth. Romo's 1.193 OPS allowed in his past five appearances didn't deter Baldelli and Romo promptly loaded the bases in return.
Romo still had a shot to get out of the jam on a ground ball to Jorge Polanco but whether it was the chants of "UBER DRIVER" or national analysts laughing stuck in his head from last postseason, Polanco wildly threw wide on a point-blank throw to second base to give the Astros the lead.
Baldelli still had the chance to steal victory from the jaws of defeat but instead operated as if it were May 29 instead of September 29. As Caleb Thielbar became the next man up, Michael Brantley decided to put the nail in the coffin with a two-RBI single.
Even then, the Twins showed grit putting together back-to-back singles with one out in the bottom half of the inning, and Baldelli's response was...Willians Astudillo?
Twins fans love Astudillo because of his girth, but the odds of a long, cerebral at-bat were about as slim as "La Tortuga's" measurements. Right on cue, Astudillo swung on the first pitch and sent the Twins into sports infamy.
Now down 1-0 against a team that would rather be at confessional, the Twins have to somehow shake this feeling. As a team that went all-in on 2020, they have to collect themselves and figure out how to move forward.
Unfortunately, this group continues to be hampered by the streak and will do so until they get out of their own way.