TORONTO — A group of fans behind home plate chanted "M-V-P! M-V-P!" as Josh Donaldson and Vlad Guerrero Jr. hugged moments after the Twins' 5-3 loss Sunday, but it was impossible to tell if it was a tribute to accomplishments past or future.
Donaldson pulled off his grey Minnesota jersey over his head, signed it with a marker, and handed it to his friend. Guerrero did the same with his white jersey, and two of the greatest players in Blue Jays history chatted briefly, posed for a photo and waved to the crowd before heading to their dugouts.
"He just told me, 'Hey, stay focused and keep working hard through the end,' " Guerrero said of the jersey exchange, which Guerrero suggested to his one-time mentor before Saturday's game. "Since I was in the minors, when he was here, he was always giving me advice, especially in spring training. When I was playing third, [he was] helping me out, taking ground balls with him. He's always been great to me."
It was a sentimental homecoming weekend for Donaldson, who spent four seasons in Toronto and became the franchise's second MVP award-winner (after George Bell, the 1987 winner) in 2015. Rogers Centre crowds, many of them wearing his No. 20 jerseys, stood and applauded before his first at-bat in all three games, and a clearly touched Donaldson homered in each of the first two.
"It was clear from the very beginning that Canadian baseball fans love [him]," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Everything JD did while he was here, I don't think a speck of that was forgotten. You don't see many standing ovations these days … and they're very very nice moments."
Donaldson returned the favor by campaigning during media interviews for Guerrero — who currently leads the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, hits and home runs — to become the third Blue Jays' MVP, though he's considered the underdog against the Angels' Shohei Ohtani.
"Coming from Josh, it's unbelievable what he said. I mean, coming from someone who already won the MVP?" Guerrero said. "I really appreciate his comments."
He appreciated the atmosphere between the two teams, too, especially on a day when former Twin Jose Berrios faced his old team, too.
"A lot of respect between both teams, since the first game," Guerrero said. "Like I always say, the people who respect us, we're going to respect them back."
Web gem for Buxton
Breyvic Valera's soft fly ball looked like a certain hit off the bat, a leadoff looper destined to land in shallow center field to lead off the sixth inning. But Byron Buxton wouldn't allow it.
Buxton broke immediately for the ball and completely left his feet, executing a fully-stretched dive that intersected with the baseball about 3 inches off the Rogers Centre turf.
"Watching Buck go after balls is always fun," Baldelli said of one of the more remarkable defensive plays Buxton has made this season. "Seeing him jump around, bounce around, showing off the athleticism is what we look for."
Once he stopped sliding, Buxton laid on his stomach for a beat before getting to his feet. Baldelli was just thankful for safety advances in artificial-turf technology. The turf covers a cement floor, after all.
"It's hard [underneath]. But this isn't the turf of olden days, where it's like diving on a hard wood floor with a dense carpet layer on top," Baldelli said. "This is a lot better than that. This is something I don't think players mind playing on at all."
Garver to rejoin Twins
Mitch Garver allowed a passed ball, so the day wasn't perfect. Still, he went 1-for-4 on Sunday for the St. Paul Saints, bringing him to 2-for-10 in three rehab games this weekend in Indianapolis. Most importantly, he likely convinced the Twins that he is ready to return from a lower back strain.
"Mitch is doing well. I texted with him a little bit yesterday," Baldelli said. "We're all heading to Chicago. So that's the plan, to get him to Chicago," where he could be reinstated for the first game of a series in Wrigley Field on Tuesday.