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Broken record: Twins' postseason losing streak reaches 17-games as bats go quiet

Martin Maldonado, Max Kepler
Minnesota Twins’ Max Kepler, left, beats the tag by Houston Astros catcher Martin Maldonado to score on a Nelson Cruz double off Astros pitcher Zack Greinke in the third inning of an American League wild-card series baseball game, Tuesday Sept. 29, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — See ‘ya later Chicago Blackhawks. The Minnesota Twins now own a North American major sports record that they want no part of. Say this, they’ve earned it.
The Twins’ 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday afternoon in the opening game of their best-of-three first-round playoff series at Target Field, extended the team’s postseason losing streak to 17 games. That puts the Twins one ahead of the 1975 to ’79 Blackhawks for the most consecutive postseason losses.
Here’s what happened, with a few thoughts from a game that makes Wednesday’s second game a must-win for the Twins.

  • The Twins had a chance to deliver an early knockout punch to Astros starter Zack Greinke in the top of the first inning, loading the bases with one out on a Byron Buxton single and walks to Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz. Eddie Rosario lined a rocket that was caught by first baseman Yuli Gurriel and Miguel Sano worked the count full before hitting a dribbler to third base on which Alex Bregman charged and got Sano by less than a step at first base. The Twins challenged but the call stood up. Greinke threw 30 pitches in the inning.
  • Buxton’s base hit to right was his first career postseason hit in three at-bats. He played in the Twins’ one-game wild card against the Yankees in 2017, but was unavailable last season against the Yankees because of a left shoulder injury.
  • Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had two challenges, instead of the usual one, because this was a playoff game. MLB rules also transfer the power to call for replay reviews to the crew chief starting in the eighth inning.
  • Cruz’s two-out double to right scored Kepler (who had walked) from first base in the third to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. Josh Reddick played the ball on the warning track and made a strong throw to catcher Martin Maldonado but Kepler beat the throw with a head-first slide.
  • Greinke did not have a 1-2-3 inning until the fourth, but that did not come without some work. Ryan Jeffers, starting at catcher in place of the struggling Mitch Garver, had a nine pitch at-bat, on which the count was 2-2 when he lined out to Kyle Tucker in left field. Greinke was pulled for Astros lefthander Framber Valdez after four innings. Valdez made 10 starts and only one relief appearance for the Astros in the regular season but Houston decided to move him to the bullpen.
  • Kenta Maeda gave up a two-out double to left to Michael Brantley in the first inning and then retired seven of the next eight hitters through three. Maeda got Brantley to pop to third to open the fourth but then gave up a walk and a single before Carlos Correa walked after Gurriel lined to center. After a visit from pitching coach Wes Johnson, Josh Reddick struck out swinging on a 1-2 slider from Maeda to leave the bases loaded. Maeda, whose pace slowed in the fourth, was at 81 pitches through four innings but then got the Astros in order in the fifth on 10 pitches.
  • Trevor May replaced Maeda in the sixth inning and retired the side in order on 11 pitches. The move away from Maeda was a bit odd considering how good he looked in the fifth.
  • Tyler Duffey entered in the seventh and got the first hitters — Gurriel on a grounder to third and Correa on a check-swing strike three — but Reddick singled, Martin Maldonado got an infield single on a ball Marwin Gonzalez couldn’t handle at third and George Springer singled to center to score Reddick from second. Buxton threw out Maldonado at third base but Reddick touched the plate first to tie the score at 1-1. Although Maldonado got a hit, you had to wonder if Josh Donaldson, out because of a calf injury, would have made the play that Gonzalez couldn’t as the ball popped out of his glove. Gonzalez’s inability to recover in time to get Maldonado cost the Twins what would have been the third out.
  • Duffey walked Jose Altuve to open the eighth and was replaced by Taylor Rogers, who got Brantley to strike out swinging and got fly outs from Bregman and Tucker.
  • The Twins turned to Sergio Romo in the top of the ninth inning, but after a lead off single by Gurriel, starter Jake Odorizzi (just off the injured list for the third time this season) began warming in the bullpen. Correa followed with another single before Romo got the next two hitters. A ground ball to shortstop Jorge Polanco should have ended the inning but second baseman Luis Arraez could not handle the throw at second. Polanco’s throwing error loaded the bases for Altuve, who worked the count to 3-2 before walking on a sinker that sailed high in the strike zone. That brought home Gurriel with the go-ahead run and brought in reliever Caleb Thielbar. Brantley’s two-run single gave the Astros a 4-1 lead. All three runs in the inning were unearned.