Toronto Blue Jays eliminated from playoffs
MINNEAPOLIS - The early hook for Jose Berrios will be a hot talking point as the dust settles on another Blue Jays post-season that ended in a first-round sweep.
All the pitching moves in the world won't matter if the offence doesn't deliver.
Factor in a big basepath blunder and a lack of timely hitting and it's no surprise Toronto is still looking for its first playoff win since 2016.
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After a 3-1 win in Game 1, the Minnesota Twins completed a two-game sweep Wednesday by shutting out the Blue Jays 2-0 at Target Field.
“I think that we can all look at each other in the face and say collectively we fell short of executing what we wanted to do,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider.
The Twins, who ended an 18-game playoff losing skid a day earlier, will advance to the AL Division Series against the Houston Astros.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, were left searching for answers after being swept in the first round for the third time in four years.
“We didn't score runs,” said Toronto shortstop Bo Bichette, who has yet to win a big-league playoff game. “You can't win without scoring runs.”
Toronto Blue Jays players watch from the dugout during the eighth inning of Game 2 of an AL wild-card baseball playoff series against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Offensive woes aside, Schneider's decision to pull Berrios was a big roll of the dice for a starter who was in form against his former team.
A leadoff walk in the fourth inning ended his day after 47 pitches, 32 of them for strikes. The Twins scored twice in the frame against Yusei Kikuchi for a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
“I pitched my ass off from the first pitch to the last pitch ... I don't feel happy,” Berrios said. “I feel frustrated because I lost.”
Berrios was charged with one earned run in the hard-luck loss. He gave up a walk and three hits while striking out five.
“He had electric stuff,” Schneider said. “Tough to take him out. But I think with the way they're constructed, you want to utilize your whole roster. It didn't work out.”
Sonny Gray threw five innings for the win. Five relievers combined on the nine-hit shutout with Jhoan Duran working the ninth for the save.
Toronto had runners at second and third base in the second, fifth and sixth innings but didn't score.
“One run in two games, one extra-base hit isn't going to cut it,” Schneider said. “They didn't do much today. Only hit one ball in the air. Some ground balls found some holes.
“This time of the year, it (comes down to) timely hitting.”
Toronto fell to 6-8 all-time in post-season elimination games.
Berrios, who spent parts of six seasons with Minnesota, started strong against his former team, retiring the first three batters on 13 pitches.
A sacrifice bunt by Daulton Varsho put runners in scoring position in the second inning but George Springer lined out to end the threat.
Schneider said before the elimination game it was an “all hands on deck” situation. Kikuchi started warming in the second inning and reliever Genesis Cabrera got loose in the third.
With left-handed batters due to face the southpaw Kikuchi, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli turned to his bench early.
Max Kepler singled and pinch-hitter Donovan Solano walked to load the bases. Carlos Correa hit an RBI single and pinch-hitter Willi Castro hit into a double-play to bring another run home.
“I trust whoever is out there on the mound,” said Blue Jays designated hitter Brandon Belt. “We're all competitors. I know Jose wants to stay out there as long as possible.
“You've got to trust your teammates and trust the decisions that are made.”
The Blue Jays had runners in scoring position again in the fifth inning but couldn't cash in. With Bichette at the plate, Gray picked off Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at second base to end the threat.
Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reacts after being picked off second base during the fifth inning of Game 2 of an AL wild-card baseball playoff series against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
“In that moment, that can't happen,” Schneider said.
The Blue Jays challenged but the call stood after review.
Gray allowed two walks and had six strikeouts. Minnesota's bullpen was tested in the sixth after three straight one-out singles.
The sellout crowd of 38,518 held its breath when a Matt Chapman drive to left field curled just outside the foul line. He then grounded into a double-play.
“Sonny went out there today, pitched tremendously,” said Baldelli. “Pablo (Lopez) yesterday pitched tremendously.
“And then our bullpen, they just came in and closed the curtain on the series.”
Espinal hit a one-out single in the ninth to bring the potential tying run to the plate. But Duran struck out Chapman and Varsho to end it.
Minnesota secured home-field advantage as the third seed after winning the Central Division title. The Blue Jays (89-73) had two more wins than the Twins in the regular season but were seeded sixth as the final wild-card entry.
The Twins beat Toronto in the AL Championship Series in 1991 in their only other post-season meeting.
The Blue Jays won the World Series the following year and repeated as champions in 1993.
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider, middle left, takes out pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, middle right, during a pitching change in the fifth inning of Game 2 of an AL wild-card baseball playoff series against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Minneapolis. Also shown are catcher Alejandro Kirk, left, and third baseman Matt Chapman. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Canadian baseball great Justin Morneau threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Morneau, from New Westminster, B.C., won the AL most valuable player award with the Twins in 2006.
Toronto's Chris Bassitt and Minnesota's Joe Ryan were expected to start Game 3 if a deciding game was necessary.
Ryan will likely now start the opener of the ALDS on Saturday instead.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2023.
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