First Pitch: 3:38 PM CT
Know Thine Enemy: Bluebird Banter
The first time I laid eyes on the Toronto Blue Jays was in the mid-1990s after stumbling upon a VHS recording that my Dad had made of the final outs of the 1991 ALCS. As a burgeoning baseball fan, I watched that cassette—which also included snippets of the 1991 World Series!—so many times that years later when we tried to convert it to DVD the magnetic tape was quite literally too fragile to survive the transfer.
I didn’t take much notice of the Jays for the next two decades.
Though the azure-clad Canadians rebounded from their ‘91 ALCS defeat to capture World Series flags in 1992 & 1993, by the time I began closely following baseball in the late-90s they were consistently mediocre. Roy Halladay racked up victories, Carlos Delgado launched a lot of bombs, Roger Clemens went steroidal, and the Minnesota Twins swiped Shannon Stewart from them mid-’03. But other than that, Toronto was an afterthought in a division dominated by the Yankees & Red Sox.
After Target Field was christened in 2010, the Blue Jays came roaring back onto the MN radar—and not on the happiest of trajectories. From 2010-2016, the Blue Birds owned the Twins to the tune of a 34-14 record. It didn’t matter home or away—the likes of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Vernon Wells, and Josh Donaldson pummeled Twins pitching with mammoth home runs and extra base hits by the bushel.
A fairly indicative play of a typical Twins/Jays contest in that period...
Starting in 2017, the competitive chasm between the clubs narrowed considerably. From ‘17-present, the Twins actually hold a 22-18 edge in head-to-head play. Amazing what competent starting pitching can do.
Somewhat remarkably, the Jays once again—ala the early-2000s—find themselves the “odd team out” in the AL East (albeit with a better record and more overall talent than the early oughts). But this time it is the Orioles and Rays they are looking up at rather than NYY or BOS (now cellar-dwellers)—hence their being the final AL Wild Card seed.
This year, the 87-75 Twins and the 89-73 Blue Jays played each other about as tight as those records would indicate. In late-June, “Oh Canada” was added to Target Field’s pregame serenades as Toronto took two of three from the hometown nine. Had TOR outfielder Daulton Varsho been a quarter of an inch taller, it might have been a clean sweep.
Two weeks later the Twins made it through customs and repaid the road series victory favor, taking 2-of-3 and nearly busting out the brooms but for an Emilio Pagan late-inning meltdown (this was in the B.P.T. times—Before Pagan’s Turnaround).
Truth be told, if the Blue Jays were playing any other playoff opponent, I’d probably be rooting for them. But since they drew a one-way ticket to Twins Territory, I’ll crib from every Minnesotan’s favorite baseball flick:
“[Toronto], I know you are decent human beings—but die like dogs!” (Bowers; Little Big League)
Yesterday—well, yesterday was completely and utter insane. I could write volumes about the Twins’ first postseason victory since 2004, but fortunately Brandon Brooks did exactly that! I’ll just call it possibly the most stressful 3 hours of my life thus far and move on.
Today, the Twins have a chance to record their first playoff series victory since 2002. They’ll have to defeat old friend Jose Berrios to do so. In the midst of unseasonably warm MN October temperatures, it’s appropriate that a guy named Sonny could make it happen.
Are you ready to party like it’s 1991? Let’s find out together!
|George Springer - RF||Edouard Julien - 2B|
|Brandon Belt - DH||Jorge Polanco - 3B|
|Vladimir Guerrero - 1B||Royce Lewis - DH|
|Bo Bichette - SS||Max Kepler - RF|
|Cavan Biggio - 2B||Alex Kirilloff - 1B|
|Alejandro Kirk - C||Carlos Correa - SS|
|Kevin Kiermaier - CF||Matt Wallner - LF|
|Matt Chapman - 3B||Ryan Jeffers - C|
|Daulton Varsho - LF||Michael Taylor - CF|
|Jose Berrios - RHP||Sonny Gray - RHP|