TORONTO — The entire crowd, a sellout audience of 14,798 under COVID restrictions, came to its feet as Josh Donaldson walked to the plate in the first inning on Friday. The Twins' third baseman raised his helmet in appreciation as the ovation crescendoed with a loud roar.
"They've always shown their appreciation for me, and I've tried to return that to them as well," Donaldson said after just his third game at Rogers Centre since being traded away in 2018. "I can't lie, it's nice to get back here playing in front of these fans and in this stadium that had so many good memories."
A lovely sentiment and a nice moment. But Donaldson didn't leave them with a very good memory on Friday.
Donaldson hit one of four Minnesota home runs, Michael Pineda turned in nearly six strong innings, and the Twins knocked Toronto out of its wild-card playoff position with a 7-3 victory.
The Twins capped a five-run third inning with three consecutive home runs, the middle one sliced the opposite way into the Twins' bullpen by Donaldson, the only American League MVP to play in Toronto in the past 34 seasons. Jorge Polanco started the barrage with a three-run shot to left-center, and Miguel Sano finished off the back-to-back-to-back flurry with a fly ball that ricocheted off the second deck above straightaway center field.
"There are times when our lineup's been held in check," Donaldson said. "But when we score, we tend to score in bunches."
Brent Rooker, in his first game since the birth of his daughter on Monday, doubled and later connected for a home run of his own. "He's got dad strength now, and that's all that really matters," joked Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, himself a new father this month. All that offense allowed the Twins, who had won only twice in their past eight games, to whip the Blue Jays by their largest margin of defeat in exactly one month, since a 12-6 loss to the Nationals on Aug. 17.
Combined with the Yankees' shutout of Cleveland and the Red Sox's blowout of Baltimore, the Blue Jays dropped from second to fourth place in the AL East, and out of current playoff position.
"You're never really in the clear when you're facing an offense like this, so you have to score and then you have to score some more," Baldelli said. "Our guys were up for it, and our offense came out banging. Looked for good pitches, and got them."
Polanco sparking the three-homer flurry was a relief for the fill-in shortstop, since it was his two-out throwing error that extended the second inning and allowed Toronto to take the lead with two runs. Ryan Jeffers led off the third with a single, and Byron Buxton doubled him home with the tying run. Then came the Twins' first three-man fusillade of home runs since 2019: Polanco on a first-pitch curveball, followed by Donaldson, who almost awkwardly popped a 3-2 cutter into the bullpen.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo replaced starter Hyun Jin Ryu with reliever Ross Stripling, but Sano greeted him with the longest blast of the night, a 436-footer over the black background in center field.
All that was left was to admire Pineda's work. His pitching, sure — he gave up only three hits in 5⅔ innings to record his third straight win — but also his athleticism. When Jake Lamb led off the fifth inning with a slow chopper to first base, Miguel Sano came racing in to field it, and Pineda hustled to first base to receive Sano's throw.
"Big Mike, he can move a little bit," Donaldson said. "Him covering first base, that's pure entertainment for me."