Somewhere around 10 minutes after six tomorrow afternoon, the man already anointed the American League's Most Valuable Player will step into the box against a contender for the American League Cy Young and decide what kind of playoff series we're in for.
Here's what we know so far, going into that at-bat:
CC Sabathia saw the Twins once this season, on July 7 at the Metrodome. He threw seven innings, gave up three hits and one run, and earned a resounding 10-2 win. Joe Mauer went hitless in three at-bats that day with a strikeout.
For his career, Mauer is hitting a paltry .217 (5-23) against Sabathia, with only one extra base hit and nine strikeouts.
With those numbers, you start to put a picture together that's a reasonable microcosm of the way people are treating this playoff series.
But numbers lie all the time.
There is no statistic that helps explain how Minnesota, without their second-best hitter and with a pitching rotation held together with safety pins and duct tape, is even here. Yet they won 18 of their last 22 games and beat the Detroit Tigers tonight to advance to the playoffs—but not before falling behind and having to come back three different times!
Their bullpen is completely shot. Their starting pitcher for Game One has 12 big league starts to his name. They rely heavily on Orlando Cabrera and Delmon Young to create offense.
But they're here.
To get here, they survived an seven-game deficit in September, the loss of a former MVP to injury, an early three-run deficit this evening, a heartbreaking, inning-ending play at the plate on what could have been the winning run in the 10th inning...and if not for a missed call on a hit batsman, they might still not be here.
But they're here. They play the game the right way, they are lucky when they have to be, and they've got Momentum.
Momentum is a more dangerous weapon than an ace pitcher, a cleanup hitter, or a rested bullpen. Momentum can carry undeserving teams a very long way, and if you don't believe me, just look back two years to a little catchphrase called "Rocktober."
How do you kill the Twins' momentum? Seize it for yourself. Win the first Big Moment of the series. Strike Mauer out in the first inning tomorrow. Make him look silly, give the crowd something to cheer about, and remind the Twins that "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" is only optimistic until you realize how hard it is to make it in New York.
Then let the Yankees loose on Brian Duensing.
If that's what happens, if the crowd gets into it early and the Yankees jump out to an early lead, that's when the 20-hour flight will start to weigh on Minnesota's minds. That's when they'll remember how tired their bullpen is. And like that? Momentum is no longer a factor, and we get the series we think we're getting on paper.
But give the Twins one reason to believe they can win this thing, and the Yankees will have to go 12 rounds with them—and it's 6-5 and pick 'em who comes out of the ring standing up.