The Minnesota Twins did not expect to find themselves in this situation again.

One year after a disappointing but somewhat foreseeable ALDS sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, the Twins entered this year’s rematch with high expectations. The team had not needed a tiebreaking 163rd game to reach the playoffs; they had sewn up the division with over a week left. They had a deep rotation, a strong lineup, and the chemistry brought to this year’s clubhouse by key offseason additions Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson.

Two games into the Series, though, not much seems to have changed. Despite scoring first and holding two leads in each of the first two games, Minnesota trails 2-0 and must now try to topple the Yankees twice on the road just to force a fifth and decisive game back in brand-new Target Field.

The story of the night may be the pitching match-up. After each team sent out seasoned veterans to toe the rubber in the first two contests, the young guns take over Saturday night in the Bronx. For the Twins, that means Brian Duensing, he of the 10-3 record and 2.262 ERA in a season split between the bullpen and the starting rotation. The Yankees send 18-game winner Phil Hughes, who pitched as a full-time starter for the first time this season.


The Ghost of Playoffs Past

Duensing was 26 last season when he made his big-league debut, so he can hardly be painted as a wet-eared youngster in need of drastic maturation. Still, when he took the ball for Minnesota in Game 1 of last year’s ALDS, it was apparent that the rookie had much to learn about the high drama of October baseball and the Yankees mystique.

In the third inning that night, the Twins staked Duensing to a 2-0 lead on a series of hits and a Jorge Posada passed ball. In the bottom of the frame, though, Duensing made a rare mistake up in the zone, and Derek Jeter hit a two-run home run to tie the score.

From there, everything went downhill. Duensing gave up another run in the fourth, and another in the fifth before manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him—whereupon the Yankees promptly pushed across the runner Duensing had left on base. All told, the rookie left-hander allowed five runs and seven hits over four and two-thirds innings.

The Yankees clubbed 10 fly balls and four line drives off Duensing, who normally keeps the ball on the ground very well. Witness his 52.9 percent ground-ball rate, good for 15th among pitchers with 120 or more innings pitched in 2010, according to FanGraphs. Duensing simply wasn’t ready on that night one year and two days ago to stop the offensive juggernaut that was New York.


Let’s See How Far We’ve Come

Duensing pitched against the Yanks just three times this season, all in relief and for a total of only four innings. He lost one game, gave up another home run to Jeter, and seemed generally uncomfortable against the men in pinstripes.

He will have to prove that those days are behind him tonight. He has the stuff to do it: His slider ranks as the best among pitchers who used a slide-piece regularly in 120 or more innings of work this year, according to FanGraphs. The greatest obstacle for Duensing to clear may be the mental hurdle that stands between him and pitching well at the site of his worst big-league moment, in a game that means even more.

Matt Trueblood is a student at Loyola University Chicago and B/R College Writing Intern. Follow him on Twitter.

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