For weeks, it seemed that if the Toronto Blue Jays were to make the MLB playoffs, they would immediately have to face their demons down at Tropicana Field in suburban Tampa Bay, where, as any Jays fan can tell you, ‘The Curse of the Trop’ is all too real.
It’s not just that the Blue Jays sit at 90-141 all time at the Trop – good for a .390 winning percentage, or about 100 losses over a full season’s worth of games – it’s the seemingly endless well of dramatic, heartbreaking, and downright ridiculous moments which seem to befall the Jays every time they visit.
Need an example? You don’t have to go back far. Barely a week and a half ago, the Jays stormed back from a 5-0 deficit at the Trop to take a 6-5 lead in the eighth … only for closer Jordan Romano, fighting a broken fingernail, to blow his first game in more than four months, as the Rays walked it off 7-6 in the ninth.
Surely, the Jays could be forgiven for thinking, if we make the playoffs, please, PLEASE let us go anywhere but the Trop.
Well, good news … kind of.
After losing two out of three on the final weekend of the season, the Jays suddenly find themselves not faced with Tampa Bay and the Trop, but instead heading to Minneapolis for the Wild Card to play a team in the midst of its own mind-blowing curse.
There is no way to say this nicely: the Minnesota Twins have lost 18 playoff games in a row.
That’s not only the longest playoff losing streak in baseball history, but the longest in the history of any of the four major North American sports. The last time the Twins won a playoff game – 6,937 days ago when they take the field on Tuesday afternoon – the Montreal Expos were still a team!
While Jays fans may shudder when they think of Kevin Gausman walking off the mound with an 8-1 lead, or George Springer and Bo Bichette colliding in shallow center field, or a grinning Caleb Humphreys dragging a Mike Moustakas liner over the wall for a home run in Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS, the truth is, Twins fans are probably unsurpassed when it comes to devastating moments and heartbreak in modern baseball history …
The longest playoff losing streak in history
On October 5, 2004, the Minnesota Twins defeated the New York Yankees 2-0 in Game 1 of the ALDS behind seven shutout innings from soon-to-be two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana. At the time, Twins fans didn’t know that this would be the last time they tasted playoff victory in a generation at least.
The very next night, in fact, the losing streak seemed destined to end at one after the Twins were able to get to the great Mariano Rivera and tie the game in the eighth inning, before taking a 6-5 lead in the top of the 12th. Unfortunately, with All-Star closer Joe Nathan attempting to pitch into his third inning of work, the bullpen would implode in the bottom of the inning, and the Yankees would walk it off to open up a 2-0 series lead.
Three days later, with the Twins facing elimination after they were dismantled in Game 3, it seemed almost certain their modest three-game playoff losing streak would come to an end as they took a 5-1 lead into the eighth inning. Once again though, the bullpen would implode, and the Yankees would tie it up, before winning the game and eliminating the Twins in the 11th. As if losing in this manner wasn’t bad enough, the winning run was scored by Alex Rodriguez … via a wild pitch.
Devastating as this was, it was only the beginning. Over the next two decades, the Twins built an astonishing cache of stomach-churning moments no Twins fan will ever forget.
There was Torri Hunter’s fateful dive in 2006 against the Oakland Athletics, when the nine-time Gold Glove centerfielder totally whiffed on a sinking liner off the bat of Mark Kotsay with two outs in the seventh inning of a tie game. As the ball rolled to the wall behind Hunter, Kotsay circled the bases on an inside-the-park home run, giving the A’s a lead they would not relinquish, and a Game 2 victory in a three-game sweep.
There was the infamous Phil Cuzzi blown call in Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS at Yankee Stadium, when soon-to-be AL MVP Joe Mauer led off the top of the 11th with a double that Cuzzi incorrectly called a foul ball. The Twins would end up leaving the bases loaded, before the Yankees walked it off in the bottom of the inning.
There was the devastating injury to franchise cornerstone and former MVP Justin Morneau in 2010, when his head collided with the knee of Blue Jays infielder John McDonald on a slide at second base. The subsequent concussion would knock Morneau – who was slashing .345/.437/1.055 at the time – out for the season, and without his thump in the middle of the lineup, the Twins would muster only seven runs in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in the ALDS.
Things finally seemed to be turning around in the 2017 winner-take-all Wild Card game, when the Twins rocked Yankees starter Luis Severino for three runs in the top of the first and chased the big righthander from the game after only one out. Unfortunately for the Twins, Ervin Santana immediately gave the lead back in the bottom of the inning, before José Berrios came on in relief and lost the lead in the third, as the Yankees cruised to an 8-4 victory.
And then, just when Twins fans were sure it could not get any worse, there was the historic meltdown against the Astros in Game 1 of the 2020 Wild Card series.
Tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth, George Springer stepped to the plate with two on and two out, and promptly hit a routine ground ball to shortstop Jorge Polanco to end the inning, giving the Twins a chance to finally end their then-16-game losing streak with a walk off in the bottom of the ninth. Except, Polanco threw wide at second on as easy of a play as you’ll ever see, and all runners were safe.
Moments later, Sergio Romo would walk in the go-ahead run, the first time in baseball history that the go-ahead run was scored via a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning of a playoff game. After a Michael Brantley single extended the lead to 4-1, the Twins would fail to score in the bottom of the inning, on their way to yet another sweep, and 18 straight playoff losses.
It is an incredible run of futility to look back upon, through so many different incarnations of the team, so many great players, so much regular season success. If it seems impossible, well, that’s because, statistically, it almost is.
After the Twins were eliminated in 2020, fan site Twinkie Town calculated the odds of their 18-game playoff losing streak taking place. The number they came up with was 1 in 176,860, or 0.00565%.
There is a saying in baseball – you’re either struggling or you’re due. And this is what should be causing significant concern for the Toronto Blue Jays. Are the Minnesota Twins actually cursed, or are they due to begin regressing towards the mean at any moment?
Sure, the Blue Jays would probably prefer to be heading anywhere except the Trop, but might the Twins simply be a team whose time has come?
What do you think? Are the Jays lucky to be avoiding the Rays? Or is this the worst possible time to be facing the Twins? Let me know on the platform formerly known as Twitter – @WriteFieldDeep.