Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 24-hour Twins player, torments Minnesota in Yankees doubleheader sweep

NEW YORK — Isiah Kiner-Falefa was with the Twins for only one day in spring training between trades from the Rangers and to the Yankees, but apparently that was enough time to foster enough motivation for an epic revenge series against his former team right in the midst of playoff crunch time.

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

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

“It just so happened to be against them,” Kiner-Falefa told reporters of his six RBI in three games this series. “But it definitely felt good.”

He wasn’t the only former Twins player to gain retribution. In the past three games, Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Donaldson have an RBI apiece from Monday, and Aaron Hicks has three from a bases-loaded double in the eighth inning of the second game Wednesday.

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

“I don’t want to be sitting here talking about how good the Yankees are 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 ballgames.”

Of the dire record against the Yankees, Baldelli referred to how many players on this incarnation of the Twins were not a part of nor aware of that roadblock in pinstripes. Which is fair. Both Twins starters Wednesday in Louie Varland and Joe Ryan are rookies. The longest-tenured Twins player in the lineup for both games was Jake Cave, who debuted in 2018.

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

A two-run homer from Jose Miranda in the first inning of the first game, plus 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 by the sixth inning. Celestino again put the Twins ahead with an RBI single in the 12th, but the Yankees eventually orchestrated the walkoff.

Carlos Correa’s solo home run in the third again put the Twins up first in the second game, but Kiner-Falefa broke the game open an inning later with his grand slam.

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

Ryan went only four innings after tallying 90 pitches, giving up four runs on three hits with four walks and three strikeouts. Yankees starter Gerrit Cole left in the seventh inning, having allowed just the one run on five hits with two walks and a whopping 14 strikeouts.

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

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

“I can’t say that specifically the team was disappointed in losing to the Yankees,” Ryan said. “But I mean, just the loss there and two in a day is tough on the team in general. Definitely been a long one here and would have been nice to get at least one of those.”

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