Note to readers: Columnist La Velle E. Neal III will be updating this regularly from the Target Field press box during Wednesday's Game 2. Follow along and comment, and keep a closer eye on the action with live pitch-by-pitch updates on our Star Tribune GameView.
6:38 p.m.: Arms won it
The Twins are moving on. But not before a late manicure.
Closer Jhoan Duran entered for the ninth inning with the Target Field crowd of 38,518 in a full-throated stupor. But he shook his hand following his final warm-up pitch and asked for time. Two trainers, manager Rocco Baldelli, two umpires and the entire Twins infield met on the mound to see what was wrong. Twins trainer Nick Paparesta appeared to work over one of Duran's fingers or thumb (we'll know more in a bit).
Once he was ready after a few more warm-up pitches. It was Duran at his best. He fired off 102 mph fastballs, one splinker that hit 98 and a sharp breaking ball as he shook off a one-out single, struck out three and locked up a 2-0 victory.
On to the division series. Despite having an improved offense heading into the postseason, the Twins did this one with pitching. Toronto scored just one run in the two games. The Twins have served notice that opponents must pack a lunch when facing this staff.
6:31 p.m.: Houston, here we come
Twins win, 2-0. Series over. The Twins will head to Houston for the AL Division Series. More in a minute.
6:20 p.m.: Into the 9th we go ...
Bullpens are volatile from year to year. Especially for the Twins this season.
I just watched Brock Stewart, an unknown at the start of the campaign, strike out two during a scoreless seventh inning. Stewart was called up early in the season and was an instant force as the Twins sought to stabilize its relief corps in front of closer Jhoan Duran.
Jorge Alcala was supposed to be part of that group. But he's been injured for most of the season.
Jorge Lopez was supposed to be part of that group. But he struggled, needed time off for a mental break, struggled some more and was traded.
Jovani Moran was expected to be the second lefty out of the pen but was inconsistent before becoming injured.
Here we are in the postseason with Stewart, Louie Varland and Chris Paddack as hard-throwing options. Varland has pitched in both games. Stewart was sharp on Wednesday. Still waiting to see what Paddack does. But the Blue Jays have had to gear up to deal with the late-inning fire and have failed.
Now Griffin Jax has completed a scoreless eighth after he collided with Cavan Biggio while recording an unassisted out.
Three more outs and the Twins are moving on in the postseason.
5:37 p.m.: Reusse barges in
The senior Star Tribune columnist, "Uncle Pat" Reusse, wanted in on the in-game columnizing action. He wrote a piece just now on the rule changes this summer looking even better in the postseason; it's right here — give it a read.
5:11 p.m.: 'Worst pull ever'
The Twins took the lead in the fourth inning as Rocco Baldelli won the battle of overmanaging against Toronto skipper John Schneider.
It was Schneider who triggered the war of the wits when Royce Lewis led off the fourth with a walk. Former Twin Jose Berrios had sailed through the Twins batting order until then, holding them to three hits while striking out five. That included retiring Max Kepler and Alex Kirilloff, who grounded out and struck out, respectively, in the first plate appearances.
That didn't matter to Schneider, who had to prove he was serious about emptying his bench and bullpen in an elimination game. With the K & K boys due up again, Schneider went to the mound and replaced Berrios with lefthander Yusei Kikuchi, who throws sliders 30% of the time.
The ball was now in Rocco's court. Baldelli spent the season bringing in pinch hitters earlier and earlier in games, aggravating the purists, and had success doing so during the second half. Rocco let Kepler bat, and he reached on an infield single. But Donovan Solano was brought in for Kirilloff and drew a walk.
Replacing Berrios when he's in form?
Worst pull ever.
Carlos Correa singled to center, allowing Lewis to score the first run of the game. The guy with the bad foot drove in the guy with a bad hamstring. Rocco wasn't done. Willi Castro batted for Matt Wallner and hit into a double play. Kepler scored to make it 2-0 Twins.
The seal has been broken. The Twins accepted Schneider's gift. Now here comes managerial madness over the final innings of this one.
5:01 p.m.: Twins strike first
The Twins took advantage of questionable decisions and scored two in the bottom of the fourth. I'll be posting more about this in a few minutes. Target Field is loud once again. Twins 2, Toronto 0.
4:38 p.m.: Arms race
Sonny Gray might be the best No. 2 starter in the postseason. He's a good man to send to the mound if you're trying to save your season. On Wednesday, the Twins needed him to knock out the Blue Jays.
He opened with three scoreless innings, but it wasn't easy. The first three Toronto hitters swung at the first pitch and pushed Gray deep into counts. He struck out Cavan Biggio — the Twins refuse to throw him a fastball — with two on to end the first. But the Blue Jays fouled off six offerings from Gray pitches in the inning, and those things run up pitch counts. Gray had to maneuver out of a two-out jam in the second as well, getting George Springer to fly out on his 21st pitch of the inning.
The third inning was Gray's easiest, as he shook off a two-out single by Bob Bichette with a strike out of Biggio. Gray headed into the fourth inning having thrown 54 pitches. So the Twins bullpen will be activated sometime in the fifth unless Gray has a couple of easy innings.
Jose Berrios, on the other hand, is sizzling, holding the Twins to three hits with five strikeouts. He's the sharper one of this matchup of past and present Twins.
3:38 p.m.: First pitch
Game 2 is on. We were told, by the way, that the Twins will pop bottles and spray beer if they win the series. I was going to wear a sportscoat today but instead grabbed a sweatshirt and pulled a pair of jeans out of the hamper.
It's much cooler, with more clouds, in downtown Minneapolis today for Game 2, compared to yesterday's warm and sunny Game 1 start.
Have fun today, Twins fans.
2:32 p.m.: Pregame, the sequel
Toronto manager John Schneider's pre-game press conference at Target Field before today's Game 2 was interrupted twice by an emergency warning test. He was in mid-sentence when the alarm on every smartphone in the press room went off. It was part of the national test. Schneider was in the middle of an answer when he was interrupted.
One person's alarm included a warning message — mine — and it was in Spanish. I was unable to turn down the volume. I tried muffling the speaker but gave up and just turned the phone off. Schneider tried to continue when someone else's phone went off.
"This is a good sign," he joked.
It sure is an emergency for the Blue Jays, who need to win Wednesday to force a Game 3 on Thursday at Target Field. The team that has dropped Game 1 of a three-game series usually loses the series, so Toronto is looking to go against that grain.
"It's getting the big hit," Schneider said. "I thought our bats yesterday were really competitive and didn't get the ball to fall where we wanted to in big situations.
"So I think that is probably the key. You want to try to keep them at bay early and try to not let them jump out to a lead. But it's coming through in big spots really is what it is.
"Yesterday Royce (Lewis) did that twice. And that was the difference in the game. They made a couple of good plays in the infield and outfield as well."
2:16 p.m.: Pregame
Former Twin Jose Berrios is on the mound today for the Blue Jays in Game 2. We all are familiar with his stuff, but how sharp will he be? He gave up four runs in each of his final two outings of the regular season and has had a week off since. Will the time off help or hurt Berrios? We all know he's most effective when hitters chase his pitches that drop out of the strike zone. Will the Twins be patient enough to get baserunners aboard? Will Berrios carry enough of the plate to get them to swing? We're about to find out.
The announced Game 1 attendance was 38,450 — a sellout despite empty seats being visible around the stadium. The Twins consider 38,000 a sellout. I guess my gas tank is full when 9/10ths of it is filled. A friend of mine paid $13 for a ticket on the secondary market for Game 1. I just checked another site and found single tickets for $33, so there's a little more demand today for a potential clinching game.
Whether you come to the game or monitor it from wherever you are, check back here every few innings for observations.
... Oh, one more thing. Andy Fletcher is normally a good umpire, but he flubbed a few calls in Game 1. He called strike three on Edouard Julien on a 3-2 pitch in the second inning when it was a ball. That would have loaded the bases with one out and Lewis — Mr. Grand Slam — two batters away. And he missed a strike Pablo Lopez threw in the sixth that could have changed the inning. According to the site Umpire Scorecards, Fletcher's work behind the plate favored the Blue Jays by 1.46 runs. The Twins could have won by a larger margin if Fletcher stayed on point. But the game is played and judged by humans. And humans make mistakes. Automatic strike zones don't!
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