TORONTO — Et tu, Jose?
The Twins' disheartening tour through the AL East concluded Sunday with a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays, but this one came with a twist: The vintage Jose Berrios performance that years past could rescue them from such dismal stretches this time felt like piling on.
Berrios gave his former teammates a nostalgic look at his sudden-break curveball and high-heat fastball, this time from the batter's box. The result: 12 ground-ball outs, six strikeouts and another dominating Rogers Centre performance by a righthander who never allowed a run here while a Twin.
"They know me, so I know we have to make more quality pitches," said Berrios, the Twins' two-time All-Star who was traded to Toronto in July. "They are my friends. They still will be special in my life. So I just enjoyed this afternoon and the game."
He wasn't the only one. Miguel Sano smiled through his first at-bat as he faced his friend, even after taking a curveball that hopped into the bottom of the zone for strike three. Sano and Byron Buxton, who came up through Minnesota's system with Berrios, each belted a keep-in-touch double off their old friend, but it was rookies Nick Gordon and Ben Rortvedt, who barely played with the veteran righthander, providing the day's only real offense off him.
"I never see them a lot, but they are here for a reason," said Berrios, who figures to face the Twins again Friday at Target Field, where his 32 wins are tied for the most in stadium history. "They did a great job today."
Gordon followed Sano's fourth-inning double with one of his own, driving in Minnesota's first two runs. And Rortvedt, who caught Berrios four times this season, ended his day by plastering a curveball that broke into the strike zone to the seats in right field.
"This was a start we've seen before from Jose Berrios, except normally, he's walking into our dugout," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It's not an easy thing to do, to stay focused. … [But] he's a horse. He throws strikes and attacks."
Berrios pointed to the visitors' dugout in tribute as he walked off the field, then acknowledged the loud standing ovation, his embrace by a new fan base in the middle of a pennant race complete. Teams particularly in the highly competitive East have abused the Twins over the past few weeks. Sunday's loss finished the Twins' visits to the five AL East parks for the season, and they lost all five series, going 4-12 in all.
Outside of his own emotions, Berios' day was never particularly stressful, thanks to the Blue Jays' punishment of Twins' opener Luke Farrell. The veteran righthander, making his fifth career start as an opener but first for the Twins, was pummeled by the Jays' powerful lineup, with seven consecutive players recording hits in an ugly first inning. Bo Bichette provided the biggest one, a two-run homer to straightaway center, in the five-run first.
The Twins' bullpen was remarkably sturdy the rest of the way, shutting out the Jays on just three hits. But the first-inning damage was too extensive to overcome — especially facing a motivated Jose Berrios.
"I never had a day like that before, obviously. Now I faced it, and it was fun," Berrios said. "My mom called me yesterday and tells me, she knows I was playing for them, but now I'm Toronto Blue Jay, so just do your work. I say, 'Yes, mom,' but they still feel like my good friends."