MINNEAPOLIS – There has been nothing romantic about the underdog Minnesota Twins meeting the big, bad New York Yankees in the postseason.
There have been no heart-warming tales of the little guys overcoming long odds. No Hollywood endings for the unlikely hero against the Evil Empire.
The Yankees are 9-2 against the Twins in the past decade in the first round of the AL playoffs, following 3-1 triumphs in 2003 and 2004 with a sweep last season. The domination likely has made the Yankees more hated in the Twin Cities than in any metro area outside of Boston.
"The Yankees are a great team with a lot of great players," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday. "They have been doing it for a long time. And we had our share of playoff runs, too. And we've butted heads with them and they are not the easiest team to play. They create a lot of problems for everybody that faces them."
The latest chapter in what has been a lopsided rivalry begins on Wednesday night, when Francisco Liriano starts for the Twins in the opener against New York's CC Sabathia in the first outdoor postseason game in Minnesota since 1970. The Twins went an AL-best 53-28 at home in their first season at Target Field.
The defeats have come in every way imaginable for the Twins, from Mark Teixeira's 11th-inning home run in Game 2 last year to an 8-1 wipeout of ace Johan Santana in Game 4 at the Metrodome in 2003.
"Yes, we've had our issues with them," Gardenhire said. "We haven't beaten them. All of those things are out there. It's easy to see if you look at the records. But we've had so many chances. ... They get it done. They find a way and that's what we have to do. We have to find a way. We are pretty good at that this year and I expect us to do it this year."
That 2003 loss started the Twins' string of postseason disappointments. After a stunning run to the AL championship series in 2002, the Twins have not made it out of the first round in four subsequent trips. Three losses to the Yankees and one to Oakland have Twins fans starving for something bigger than a division title.
"We went through a sweep last year. That obviously wasn't a good feeling," Twins center fielder Denard Span said. "I just think we're a year older, a year more ready. We did what we had to do during the regular season. Now I think everybody's goal is a little higher than it was a year ago."
The perception is this is big market vs. small market, deep pockets vs. pocket lint. On Tuesday, the Twins hung a picture in the clubhouse of the back page of a recent (New York) Daily News that read "Bad news: Yanks must go on road for playoffs. Good news: They play the Twins. E-Z Pass."
"In New York, I'm sure the papers perceive it that way, a David and Goliath type," said utilityman Nick Punto, one of the longest-tenured Twins. "We don't think that. Major League Baseball, every team can beat anybody on any given day.
"We definitely know we have a good team, a strong team and every year is different. Those guys are the world champs and they were the best team in baseball. Now it's a new season. Hopefully we can be the best team in baseball."
The Yankees sure won't admit to any edge.
"Doesn't mean anything," shortstop Derek Jeter interjected, cutting off a question about past success against the Twins.
He relented: "We haven't played 'em in awhile. We understand that they're very hot, especially in the second half. They'll play us tough. Anything that's happened in the past has no bearing on this season."
The Twins will tell you that the gaps — on the field and in the bank account — are gradually closing.
The Twins have a brand new ballpark, just like the Yankees.
The Twins shell out big bucks — $184 million for Joe Mauer — to keep their stars and don't hesitate to go out and add free agents — Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson — or make trades — J.J. Hardy, Brian Fuentes — to plug holes, just like the Yankees.
Carl Pavano, who won just nine games during four seasons with the Yankees, will start for the Twins in Game 2 on Thursday. He made 26 starts during his injury-riddled time in New York after signing a $39.95 million contract. Given a $7 million, one-year deal by the Twins, he went 17-11.
All the new talent as Minnesota thinking ahead, not behind.
"It's hard not to look at the past, that is pretty obvious. ... But it's a totally different team than those first two times we played the Yankees," said first baseman Michael Cuddyer, one of only two Twins remaining from 2004 roster.
It better be.
The championship-drenched Yankees come into Target Field in search of title No. 28 but failed to finish first after holding the lead on Labor Day for the third time, following 1904 and 1944.
Captain Derek Jeter hit a career-low .270, but made some adjustments in September and batted .342 in the final two weeks, just in time to take his usual place center stage for the October theatrics. Still, they dropped 17 of their final 26 games.
"I think it's hard to win. Period," Jeter said. "I don't know if you can say it's harder to repeat."
Andy Pettitte faces Pavano in Game 2 and Phil Hughes follows, with the Yankees likely to bring back Sabathia on short rest for a fourth game and skip struggling A.J. Burnett.
Brian Duensing will start Game 3 for Minnesota and Nick Blackburn would go in Game 4.
New York won the season series 4-2 but has some history going against it, well. The Yankees have never won a division series as a wild card, getting bounced in the first round in 1995, 1997 and 2007.
"We tried to win this thing (AL East)," Pettitte said. "We weren't able to get the job done. We tried to wrap this thing up and didn't get it done. The bottom line is we're the world champs until someone knocks us off."
The Yankees and Twins can at least agree on one thing. Both teams say history has no bearing on the present.
"That was 2009," Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain said of last year's sweep. "It's 2010. A new season. We've got to just do our job."