Heading into today, the Minnesota Twins had lost a remarkable 16 playoff games in a row since 2004. And in Game 1 of their Wild Card series against the Astros, a gigantic error on a routine throw by shortstop Jorge Polanco helped extend that streak to 17.
Through the first eight innings, both teams played to a 1-1 stalemate, but in the top of the ninth, Twins reliever Sergio Romo got himself into a jam by giving up two base hits to the first two batters. Romo recovered by getting the next pair of Astros out, and he seemed to have a clear path back to the dugout after George Springer hit an easy grounder to short. But Polanco just straight-up missed his target at second base, preventing Luis Arráez from making a clean catch on the bag for the force out. The error loaded the bases for Jose Altuve, who walked to drive home the go-ahead run, and a follow-up hit by Michael Brantley gave the game its final score of 4-1, Astros.
Polanco’s boner would have been huge in any given playoff game in any year, but in this unique opening round, with its best-of-three format, it immediately forces the Twins into a win-or-die scenario against what’s supposed to be the AL’s weakest team (by record, if not experience). This is not fair to Minnesota or to Polanco, whose fielding percentage this year was .988, but it’s a good preview of how luck will define these playoffs even more than they usually do. Everyone kind of knew coming in that whichever team makes its way through the postseason will need as much good fortune as a slot machine player. But it’s still striking to see that reality become so starkly apparent in the very first game.