Starting Pitcher: Pablo Lopez - 5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K (93 Pitches, 62 Strikes, 67%)
Home Runs: Royce Lewis 2 (2)
Top WPA: Lewis (.243), Lopex (.165), Griffin Jax & Jhoan Duran (.074)
Win Probability Chart (Via Fangraphs):
The Twins and Blue Jays split their season series this year, and both teams came into the playoffs with something to prove. Could the Twins erase the "streak" and start afresh with aces and rookies to guide them? Could the 2nd-generation MLB All-Stars from Toronto write a story of their own in this postseason? A packed Target Field showed up to find out, while the rest of Twins Territory got absolutely nothing done at their jobs this afternoon. After Tom Kelly threw the ceremonial first pitch to Kent Hrbek, it was time to play ball!
The Game Begins
One of the byproducts of Royce Lewis' uncertain return to the lineup as a DH involved finding a third baseman for this afternoon's pivotal contest. Jorge Polanco had played nine games there during the regular season, amassing a -29 Total Fielding Runs in the process. That skillset was on display in the very first at-bat, as George Springer sent an easy grounder to Polanco and he promptly threw the ball low and into the runnery. Alex Kirilloff caught the ball but Springer spiked his glove to start a somersault and to dislodge the ball. The questionable defense continued when Edouard Julien chose to get the second out at first instead of getting the lead runner Springer at second base. Lopez escaped the inning without allowing a run, but the tension level in Twins Territory remained high as the Twins came up to bat.
Royce Lewis Removes All Tension, For All Time, Always
Lewis wasn't sure he was going to play when asked yesterday. After Julien worked a magnificent lead-off walk, Polanco flew out to bring up Lewis. Lewis worked the count full on Gausman, and then he showed Gausman what he does with 3-2 fastballs.
Target Field erupted, Lewis put on the fishing vest, and 19 years of collective angst appeared to get released. The defense in the top of the second inning tightened up and layed out. Michael A. Taylor made a sensational diving catch in center field. In the top of the third inning Polanco charged a Kevin Kiermaier chopper and whiffed, but Carlos Correa was on the spot to back up his teammate with a sensational play to nab a streaking Bo Bichette at home.
Royce Lewis, Still Amazing After All These At-Bats
Lewis led off the third inning, and Gausman fell behind in the count 3-1. He chose to throw another fastball for a strike, and Lewis decided to place the ball violently off of the second deck in right-center field to extend the Twins lead to 3-0, and to extend his heroic resume to another level. Two playoff at-bats, two home runs. Epic.
Mid-Game Storyline: Managers Begin to Participate
Both starting pitchers reached mid-70's in pitch count in the fifth inning. Gausman was relieved by LHP Erik Swanson in the bottom of the fifth after walking Lewis. Rocco Baldelli pinch-hit Donovan Solano for Kirilloff with two on and two out, Twins fans now knew that the same offensive replacement strategy that was employed throughout 2023 would not change for the playoffs. Solano flew out to end the threat.
Lopez continued into the top of the sixth inning, and he got the first two outs of the inning while allowing a single to Bichette. Those were the last outs that he would achieve, as the umpire squeezed Lopez on an Alejandro Kirk walk. Kiermaier took Lopez to the opposite field for a line drive single to score Bichette, and Lopez exited the game ahead 3-1. First man up out of the bullpen for the Twins was rookie fireballer Louie Varland. Batter Matt Chapman blasted a ball deep to the right field gap, Target Field let out an audible gasp, and Taylor loped over to the wall to make a casually amazing leaping catch to end the threat.
Which Bullpen Blinks First?
In the bottom of the eighth, Griffin Jax got the call and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. blasted the first pitch to the wall in right field for a lead-off double. But before the anxiety could reach a fever pitch, Jax struck out Bichette and Cavan Biggio, and swept Kirk into a ground out to send the Twins into the ninth still ahead 3-1.
One of the newest Blue Jays, Jordan Hicks, got the call for the bottom of the eighth, and two walks sandwiched a Correa single to load the bases with two outs. Willi Castro had entered the game in the seventh as a defensive substitution for Matt Wallner. Castro now was the man in the box with a chance to put the game away early. Hicks delivered the heat and struck out Castro looking on a tough, backdown slider. Time to turn out the lights and enter Duran.
Closing Out History, and Starting a New Chapter
The Twins turned to their best pitcher to collect three outs, and in so doing end 19 years of misery for an entire region and fanbase. From his first pitch bender that started his strike out of Kiermaier, to his curveball that caught Chapman looking for strike three, Duran looked to be in absolute control. Against Twin-killer Whit Merrifield, however, Duran struggled to command his fastball and Merrifield wouldn't bite on the splinker. Tension began to rise yet again, ESPN started showing highlights of sadness past, and Duran looked in to face playoff legend George Springer.
One pitch. One miraculous dive by first baseman Solano. Ballgame. Streak that.
Bullpen Usage Chart: