The Toronto Blue Jays were eliminated from the playoffs with a winless record for a second straight year on Wednesday after dropping a 2-0 decision to the Minnesota Twins.
Toronto starter Jose Berrios was pulled after giving up a leadoff walk in the fourth inning. The Twins scored twice in the frame against Yusei Kikuchi for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Sonny Gray threw five innings for the win as Minnesota swept the best-of-three American League wild-card series.
Five relievers combined on the nine-hit shutout. After a trainer came out to look at Jhoan Duran’s throwing hand, the Twins closer worked the ninth inning for the save.
Toronto was also swept in the first round by the Seattle Mariners last year and by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020. The Blue Jays have lost seven straight playoff games dating back to the 2016 AL Championship Series.
The Twins, who ended an 18-game playoff losing skid on Tuesday with a 3-1 win in Game 1, will advance to the AL Division Series against the Houston Astros.
The Machine 😤— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) October 4, 2023
La Makina 🦾 pic.twitter.com/m70m5RDn2U
As much as the Berrios decision will be a talking point, Toronto’s offence was far too quiet in this short series.
The Blue Jays had several chances but couldn’t get timely hitting. Toronto had runners at second and third base in the second, fifth and sixth innings but didn’t score.
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.
With his team in must-win mode, manager John Schneider called the game an “all hands on deck” situation. He wasn’t kidding.
Even though Berrios was in form, Kikuchi started warming in the second inning and reliever Genesis Cabrera got loose in the third.
Berrios, who gave up three hits, one earned run and a walk, was fired up at times. He yelled out and smacked his glove in satisfaction when he fanned Jorge Polanco to end the third.
A leadoff walk in the fourth ended his 47-pitch appearance. With left-handed batters due to face the southpaw Kikuchi, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli turned to his bench early.
Max Kepler reached on an infield single 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.
The Blue Jays had runners in scoring position again in the fifth inning but couldn’t cash in.
With Bo Bichette at the plate, Gray picked off Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at second base to end the threat. 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.
Espinal hit a one-out single in the ninth to bring the potential tying run to the plate. 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.
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.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press