So this, the Angels have learned, is what is known as “Minnesota Nice.”
Nice easy sinkers on the corners.
Nice slow changeups at the knees.
Nice grounders beat into the carpet.
Nice way to start an American League championship series.
Seemingly moments after walking away from a Bronx street rumble, the Angels stepped into a pillow fight.
They weren’t seriously hurt, but they weren’t seriously upright, either, their balance lost and their heads spinning while the Minnesota Twins scampered out the door giggling with a 2-1 victory Tuesday in Game 1 at the Metrodome.
You know those inspirational bromides that floated around their clubhouse after the first-round victory over the New York Yankees, all that talk about inspiration and teamwork and destiny?
On Tuesday night, the bitter fruits of that victory brought to mind a different sort of old saying.
Be careful what you wish for.
In a matter of days that probably felt like moments, the Angels went from Hall of Fame heat ... to Joe Mays’ junk.
They went from baseball’s most dangerous neighborhood ... to a fluffy white dome filled with soft white waving towels.
They went from Frank Sinatra crooning “New York, New York” ... to Lee Greenwood and 55,000 fans bellowing “God Bless the USA.”
Who would have thought that they would also go from swaggering to stunned? From 10 hits in one inning to four hits in an entire game? From a .320 middle-lineup batting average to three struggling guys who combined to go hitless?
Afterward, you just had to wonder.
“No way,” Adam Kennedy said firmly. “You do not have a letdown in a league championship series.”
Tim Salmon didn’t take that long.
“No,” he said, looking quickly away, next question.
Whatever the case, that state slogan for Minnesota’s kindly way of life became the theme for the Angels’ demise. It is a theme that will be repeated throughout the series if the Angels don’t adjust.
No, these aren’t the Yankees.
Yes, these Twins are nice enough to throw first-pitch strikes.
To 20 of the 31 batters Tuesday, to be exact.
The Angels, used to taking ball one and working the count and forcing the pitcher to surrender down the middle, were so flummoxed by this trend that the first five batters of the game looked at a first-pitch strike one.
In all, the Angels swung and made contact on only five of those first pitches, resulting in three foul balls, a groundout, and one lone single by Kennedy.
“We didn’t get our kind of at-bats tonight,” Scott Spiezio said.
And they obviously better get used to it.
The Twins have studied the videos from the Yankee games, and will continue to work this way.
“If you get strike one with these guys, everything changes,” said Rick Anderson, Twin pitching coach.
No, these aren’t the Yankees.
Yes, these Twins are also nice enough not to try to overpower you with their best pitches in important situations.
Facing Troy Glaus with a full count and a runner on first in the ninth inning, closer Eddie Guardado threw not a fastball, but a dipping, knee-high slider that caught Glaus staring.
“Froze him,” Anderson said with a shrug. “That’s how Eddie tries to do things.”
The first night away from the Yankees froze all of the Angels, it seemed.
“They came out more aggressive,” Kennedy said. “We need to be more aggressive.”
And perhaps less honest, as Kennedy readily acknowledged that he did not see the idiot trespasser who ran on to the field and was at least 10 feet inside the foul line when Kennedy grounded out to shortstop in the eighth inning.
“Did not affect me at all,” he said.
The umpires didn’t see him in time, so they didn’t say anything, but play should have been stopped, and Kennedy should have had another chance.
Not that it really mattered, though.
Not when Salmon was shaking his head and saying, “I don’t think I ever got a swing that I wanted to take.”
Not when Spiezio was stroking his goatee and saying, “After your second or third time up there, you knew, this guy was really going to be tough.”
The Angels aren’t the first team to struggle upon arrival in Minnesota. This season, the Twins are 23-3 in the first games of series here.
The Angels are also not the first team to wilt under the Twins’ change-of-pace pitching.
“What a lot of people failed to realize was that the Twins won their division easily without having their best two pitchers most of the year,” said Brad Fullmer, referring to Mays and Brad Radke. “This is going to be a battle.”
If the Angels didn’t realize it while dancing away from New York, they realize it now. They will likely adjust their approach. They will certainly alter their expectations.
“If you look at the video, you realize that the Yankees really didn’t pitch that well, that they left a lot of stuff across the plate,” Anderson said.
That didn’t happen Tuesday. It might not happen much the rest of the week.
Standing between the Angels and the World Series is a team that bears no resemblance to the Yankees. Usually that is a good thing. Suddenly, it is not.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org