All season long, the narrative around the Minnesota Twins was “just get to the playoffs—we might finally have the starting pitching to make some noise!”. That was the exact same narrative of this game—and series, really—and it ironically applied as much (if not more) to the opposing Toronto Blue Jays.
For the first three innings of this contest, it was a ferocious pitching duel. Jose Berrios was dominant—the type of outing Twins fans always wanted from him in our duds—and Sonny Gray was a little shaky control-wise but spinning the breaking pitches enough to generate pop outs and strikeouts. As early as the second inning, however, Toronto’s bullpen saw action with Yusei Kikuchi warming—a move that would prove to be prophetic in short order.
In the bottom of the fourth, Royce Lewis drew a leadoff walk and would be followed to the dish by Max Kepler & Alex Kirilloff. In a “Kevin Cash pulls Blake Snell against the Dodgers in 2020” move, Blue Jays manager John Schneider hopped out of the dugout and replaced the sterling Berrios with the lefty Kikuchi. While the numbers likely support such a decision, one could almost feel the sigh of relief coming from Twins Territory to see Jose hit the showers.
As such, the Twins immediately jumped on the southpaw and put up two runs on a Carlos Correa single and a Willi Castro GIDP. Some ducks were left on the pond but the Twins struck first and the Jays would be reliant on the bullpen the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Gray continued to “dance with the devil in the pale moonlight” but ultimately put up 5 scoreless innings. His biggest out came on a throw in the opposite direction of home plate: with the sacks full of Blue Birds in the top of the fifth, Sonny wheeled and fired a dart to sneaky Correa and picked off Vlad Guerrero Jr. to end the inning!
It was right back into the frying pan in the top of the sixth, as Louie Varland allowed two hits and Caleb Thielbar another to again load the bases—this time for Matt Chapman. A drive down the left field line quickly followed—landing about the width of a baseball foul. Game thread commenter Matt Monitto summed up the sentiment best. Buoyed by the break, Meat Raffle induced an inning-ending double play to preserve the lead!
The tops of the seventh and eighth innings were less dramatic but just as enjoyable. Brock Stewart absolutely melted Toronto’s bats before Sue Nelson plinked out baseball’s anthem, then Captain Jax set down the Sons of Anarchy (Vlad Jr, Bo Bichette, & Cavan Biggio) in order. The latter of those tried to tackle Jax along the first base line on a grounder but learned the well-known adage “don’t mess with a military man” as Griffin held on for the out!
Offensively, the Twins had some baserunners and scoring opportunities in innings 5-9 but just couldn’t get any cleats on home plate. So, it would once again be Jhoan Duran protecting a two-run lead.
Yet, before a single pitch was thrown in the top of the ninth, there was drama: On his final warm-up toss, Duran looked at his thumb and called for the trainer. After a long consultation and the use of the magical substance known as superglue, Duran stayed in to try and close it out. His first two pitches? Almost to the backstop. Uh oh.
But with Emilio Pagan warming in the pen, Duran found his control and started doing what he does best: absolute domination. Alejandro Kirk struck out swinging—two outs to go! Santiago Espinal stroked a clean single to the OF—but Matt Chapman also chopped at air for strike three. ONE MORE OUT TO GO! With only Daulton Varsho standing between the Twins and an AL Wild Card Round series victory, Duran put him away with three 100+ mph heaters. Good morning—good afternoon—and good night!
Good night, indeed. Ladies and gentleman, for the first time since 2002 YOUR Minnesota Twins have won a playoff series!!!
Truth be told, I had forgotten how much fun playoff baseball can be until yesterday and today (it probably helps to have two razor-tight contests!). Every out—every hit—every pitch is an event unto itself. Though I didn’t get to either game at Target Field, I was pacing back and forth in front of my TV like a caged animal—erupting at every positive moment for the hometown nine!
When I was two years old, the Minnesota Twins won the 1987 World Series. I now have a two-year-old nephew, and as you will see he is all-in on the current postseason run:
It feels like something special may be happening in Twins Territory.
Next up: see you in Houston on Saturday (times TBD)!
- Everyone who put a 2023 Homer Hanky to good use—like, say, my sister and her golden doodle...
Whether at the game or just collectively as a fanbase, this was a playoff atmosphere like few others.