TORONTO – Norichika Aoki watched the pitch heading his way, a “fastball” that didn’t even reach a measly 87 miles per hour and was aimed for the middle of the strike zone. Aoki swung as hard as he could — and watched the ball travel 100 feet, mostly straight up. As his popup headed back to earth, Aoki gripped his bat with two hands and slammed it into the Rogers Centre turf in anger.
If any at-bat summed up the Blue Jays’ feelings about facing Bartolo Colon, it was that one. The Twins’ righthander put on one of the more mesmerizing — or exasperating, depending on your loyalties — magic shows of the season Friday. Colon threw 96 pitches, roughly 85 of them fastballs but fewer than a dozen threatening 90 mph, got knocked around for nine hits, didn’t strike out a single Blue Jay, but somehow emerged with a confounding, yet convincing 6-1 victory over Toronto.
“I didn’t pay much attention to [Aoki’s frustration]. … We have to win sometimes, too, as pitchers,” Colon said playfully after improving to 4-1 in August. “I always pitch well here, and that’s good.”
It was good for the Twins, because they rarely pitch well here. Colon delivered Paul Molitor’s first win as a manager in a ballpark he starred in as a player. June 11, 2014, was the date of the last Minnesota victory here; the Twins were 0-7 in Toronto since that date.
“It was a fun game. An outstanding start by Bartolo,” Molitor said. “Bartolo spread out some hits along the way, but made a lot of quality pitches, too.”
Justin Smoak wasn’t impressed by Colon’s virtuoso performance, collecting a double, a single, a walk and his 35th home run of the year, the latter on an 81-mph changeup that he crushed into the seats in left-center.
But Smoak’s big night meant little because Colon simply retired Jose Bautista, batting right behind him, all three times he was given a chance, with all three times ending Toronto’s inning.
Colon also helped the Twins, who had lost two straight games, keep their improbable grip on a playoff spot, if only by a half-game.
“My speed is not there anymore, so it makes sense that I don’t strike out as many hitters as I used to. I’d much rather get an easy out than throw three strikes,” Colon said. “If they come, they come, but if they don’t, that’s fine too.”
His speed might be gone, but Byron Buxton’s is as blazing as ever, and it sparked the Twins’ offense after a two-day stupor in Chicago. Buxton collected three hits, two of them by bunting, drove in a pair of runs, stole his 18th consecutive base, and topped it off by making another miraculous catch in center field, leaping onto the warning track and then tumbling head-over-heels to snag Rob Refsnyder’s eighth-inning drive to deep right-center, saving two runs.
“I saw it well, saw it tailing away from me. I knew I had a chance to get there,” Buxton said. “Knowing I’m taking away a hit from them, and keeping the score the way it was, kind of boosted me up a little bit.”
It boosted everybody in the visitors dugout.
“You never want to take that for granted, having that kind of defense. He’s special,” Molitor said.
That athleticism paid off in Buxton’s second successful squeeze bunt of the month, one of three bunt singles the Twins used to victimize Toronto’s defense.
“You know, one of my favorite things is bunt hits, and we had three of them,” Molitor crowed, with Jorge Polanco providing the other.