24-Hour Twins player Isiah Kiner-Falefa torments Minnesota in Yankees double sweep

NEW YORK — Isiah Kiner-Falefa was only with the Twins for one day during spring training between Rangers and Yankees trades, but apparently that was enough time to spark enough motivation for a epic revenge streak against his former team smack in the middle of the playoff slump.

The shortstop already had two hits, including a run and an RBI on a solo homer, in the Yankees’ win on Monday. But he added even more offense in both games of Wednesday’s doubleheader after Tuesday’s rain, giving his team a 3-0 lead in the four-game series.

He hit the RBI tying single in the 12th inning of Game 1 on Wednesday, then scored the game-winning run on Oswaldo Cabrera’s single for a 5-4 win. And in Game 2, he threw his first career grand slam just inside the left field foul post to help the Yankees to a 7-1 victory and a sweep.

“It happened to be against them,” Kiner-Falefa told reporters of his six RBIs in three games this series. “But it was definitely enjoyable.”

He wasn’t the only former Twins player seeking revenge. In the past three games, Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Donaldson each have an RBI starting Monday, and Aaron Hicks has three on a home run double in the eighth inning of Game 2 on Wednesday.

That makes the Twins’ consistent failure against the Yankees in recent history all the more puzzling. The Yankees hold an overall record of 98-37 against the Twins since 2002. They have won 22 of the last 24 meetings with the Twins at Yankee Stadium, making the Twins 1-17 since 2017. Since 2002, the Yankees have a 53-13 ‘ ahead of the Twins in New York.

“I don’t want to sit here talking about the quality of the Yankees anymore. Or the Astros or the Dodgers or any of those teams,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I want to talk about our guys and how we find ways to win baseball games.”

Amid the disastrous record against the Yankees, Baldelli spoke of the number of players in this incarnation of the Twins who weren’t part of or aware of that pinstripe roadblock. Which is right. Both Wednesday Twins starters in Louie Varland and Joe Ryan are rookies. The oldest Twins player on the roster for both games was Jake Cave, who made his debut in 2018.

But the Yankees were without several key players for the doubleheader, from Donaldson on paternity leave to Giancarlo Stanton, who fouled a foot ball in Monday’s game. Even against a less experienced roster, the Twins couldn’t hold a lead.

A two-run homer from Jose Miranda in the first inning of Game 1, along with an RBI single from Gilberto Celestino in the fourth, gave the Twins an early lead. But a solo homer from AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge, his 55th of the season, in the fourth inning and a two-run bomb from Gleyber Torres tied it in the sixth. Celestino put the Twins ahead again with an RBI single in the 12th, but the Yankees ultimately orchestrated the outing.

Carlos Correa’s solo home run in the third put the Twins ahead again in Game 2, but Kiner-Falefa opened the game an inning later with his grand slam.

The pitching of the twins was a mixed bag. Afternoon starter Varland, making his MLB debut, was solid in 5 ⅓ innings with just three hits allowed, two runs, one walk and seven strikeouts. But because the game was dragging on, the Twins had to burn six bullpen arms, including their top relievers in Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar and Jorge Lopez.

Ryan went just four innings after throwing 90 pitches, allowing four runs on three hits with four walks and three strikeouts. Yankees starter Gerrit Cole started in the seventh inning, allowing just one run on five hits with two walks and 14 strikeouts.

The Twins also made several mistakes, but not all of them had an immediate consequence. In the final innings of the afternoon game, the defense made several errors that allowed the runners to reach or advance. Third baseman coach Tommy Watkins also sent free runner Celestino home on Luis Arraez’s ground ball into right field in the top of the 10th, only for the Yankees to tag it easily.

The Yankees improved to 83-54, still atop the American League East. The Twins fell to 68-67 and are now tied with the White Sox two games behind Cleveland at the top of the Central Division.

“I can’t say the team was specifically disappointed to lose to the Yankees,” Ryan said. “But I mean, just losing there and two in one day is tough for the team in general. It’s definitely been a long time here and it would have been nice to get at least one.”

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