Bailey Ober had just faced Toronto in his last start Sept. 18. That went smoothly for three shutout innings until he combusted in the fourth, allowing two homers and four runs.
So before a rematch, Ober went back to the tape and realized he needed to mix up his pitch selection and keep Toronto off balance to avoid a similar fate. On Friday, his usual go-to fastball was scarce, replaced by more of his slowest pitch, the curveball.
It worked. The Twins won 3-1 in front of an announced crowd of 18,861 at Target Field. Ober never faced more than four batters in an inning, putting together five consecutive clean innings with six strikeouts.
His one flaw was on a ball Marcus Semien hit into the bullpen in the sixth inning. But that was the wild-card hopefuls' only offensive production of the night. Not even Triple Crown contender Vladimir Guerrero Jr., could manifest something, as he went 0-for-4, struck out once by Ober.
"Honestly, it kind of excites me," Ober said of pitching to an MVP candidate. "It makes me want to go out there and throw to those guys. I want to face the best of the best, and right now, he's having probably the best offensive season this year out of anyone. It's very impressive to see him swing the bat and when he makes contact. It's very loud and very hard. Going up and trying to do everything I can and have pretty good success against him, it's pretty cool."
A big third inning was all the Twins needed to establish a lead. Andrelton Simmons, at the bottom of the batting order, drew a walk to start. Luis Arraez hit a triple that dribbled all the way to the right-field corner, giving Simmons time to run home while Arraez scampered to third.
Byron Buxton smashed a two-run home run to center field next, giving the Twins a 3-0 lead.
All those runs came against former Twins pitcher Jose Berrios, who started at Target Field for the first time as a visitor. He went six innings, allowing five hits and two walks and striking out 10.
Gant starts Saturday
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli waited until after Friday's win to name a starting pitcher for Saturday.
John Gant will come off the 10-day injured list in order to start the third game of the series. Gant has been out with a lower abdominal strain since lasting only 12 pitches into a Sept. 13 game at the New York Yankees. But he did throw a full bullpen session Thursday as part of his recovery.
"He's obviously not built up to where he was," Baldelli said, hinting at a possibly heavy game for the bullpen. "But he's going to start and give us what he can."
Rookie starter Joe Ryan, who last pitched on Wednesday, left the team Friday to go back home to San Francisco and deal with a family matter. Baldelli said after Friday's game that Ryan would be on the family medical/bereavement list for a minimum of three days.
Baldelli was initially hopeful Ryan could return on Sunday. Righty Griffin Jax is set to start Sunday's game.
Right fielder Max Kepler was not in the starting lineup for Friday's game. He had left Thursday's victory before the fifth inning with a non-COVID-related illness.
Baldelli said Kepler might not start Saturday, either.
"We want to get him in a better place," Baldelli said. "Physically, he's not feeling really up to being out there on his feet for nine innings right now. He's been pretty beat up for a little while."
Baldelli added Kepler had been playing through his ailment and could pinch hit even if he doesn't play a full game.
Jorge Polanco recently battled a bit of a cold, and Baldelli said a handful of his players have dealt with some congestion symptoms.
"The schedule's not going to slow down for a bad head cold," Baldelli said of the Twins' remaining eight games. "Most of our guys, they've kind of played through some of this stuff, but it's worn a few of them down."