TORONTO – Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk busted his bat while flying out to left field to end the first inning. A large chunk of the bat broke off and struck Twins catcher Mitch Garver on the left side of his neck, bruising him.
That got everyone’s attention.
“Checking for blood, basically,” Garver said. “Making sure it wasn’t pouring blood. That would have been a really bad situation. So no blood. Came out that inning, they checked on me, put some ointment on it. It was fine.”
Still, there was a moment where not everyone was sure Garver was fine. As the only healthy and available catcher Tuesday — with Jason Castro resting a sore elbow after being hit by a pitch Monday and Willians Astudillo still on the injured list — Garver started behind the plate, with regular first baseman C.J. Cron tabbed as Garver’s emergency backup.
“C.J. had an absolute heart attack,” Garver said. “The story was that the first thing he did was turn to Wes [Johnson], our pitching coach, and say, ‘I don’t know how to call pitches. I’ve never called pitches before.’ So that was good.”
Fortunately for all, Garver stayed in the game, blasted a two-run homer in the sixth inning and guided Jose Berrios to his sixth victory as the Twins turned back Toronto 3-0 for their second shutout in as many nights — their first consecutive shutouts since 2013.
Combined with Cleveland's 2-0 loss to the White Sox, the Twins lead the American League Central by four games.
The Twins (22-12) have won nine of 12 games to go 10 games over .500 for the first time since July 17, 2015, and can sweep the Blue Jays with a victory Wednesday. They also can finish 7-3 over a 10-game stretch that included games against the Astros, Yankees and Blue Jays.
The Berrios-Garver battery clicked, as the righthander won his fifth consecutive start for the first time in his career. With 92 pitches over seven innings, Berrios held Toronto to four hits and no walks. He looked able to pitch in the eighth, but Twins manager Rocco Baldelli went to his bullpen and Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers combined to get the final six outs.
Berrios joined the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow and the Yankees’ Domingo German as the only pitchers with six victories, so he was pleased Garver stayed in the game, too.
“I went right away to him to ask him how he feels, because we only have one catcher right now,” Berrios said. “But then, later in the night, he hit a homer and he helped the team to win, so that happened for a purpose.”
Berrios is 6-1 and teammate Martin Perez is 5-0. They are the first Twins teammates with at least five victories each this early in the season since Mike Marshall and Jerry Koosman in 1979.
The Twins loaded the bases in the first inning against Aaron Sanchez, who entered the game with a 3.09 ERA. They failed to get a big hit during Sanchez’s 31-pitch inning, but Marwin Gonzalez did draw a bases-loaded walk to force in a run.
Berrios had no trouble carrying that 1-0 lead through most of the game, as Sanchez shook off the first inning to stymie Twins hitters. But Eddie Rosario led off the sixth with a bloop single to center, bringing Garver to the plate. On a 3-1 pitch, Garver launched a fastball 424 feet to left for a two-run homer and a 3-0 Twins lead.
By then, no one was worried that Garver had been cut by a broken bat.
“They found out it was OK,” Garver said, “and the jokes started pouring out.”