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Twins blank Jays, win playoff series for first time since ’02

MINNEAPOLIS — As he stood at his position during the first inning Wednesday, Minnesota Twins shortstop Carlos Correa noticed something that seemed important.

The home crowd was noisy. So noisy, in fact, that it might help produce a pickoff play against Toronto Blue Jays baserunners who took a big lead off of second base.

“He comes up and says, ‘Listen, listen, listen to me. They can’t hear the third base coach yell, ‘Back!'” Twins starting pitcher Sonny Gray said. “(He said), ‘There’s going to be an option to pick. The timing pick is going to be there.'”

Correa’s words proved prophetic. He sneaked behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the fifth inning, and Gray fired a perfect strike for a pickoff that ended a golden scoring chance for Toronto.

The Twins held on to win 2-0 over the Blue Jays to complete a two-game sweep in their best-of-three American League wild-card series. It marked the first playoff series win since 2002 for Minnesota, which will play the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series.

Players stormed out of the dugout to celebrate after Twins closer Jhoan Duran struck out Daulton Varsho for the final out.

“It’s elation,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I feed off of all the energy of all of our guys because our guys bring it every day on the field, and they can celebrate, too.

“And that feeling, watching them go at it — I mean, it’s one of the best feelings in the world because we work our whole lives to get to moments like this. Just to have a chance. And we took advantage of our chance.”

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays dwelled on a slew of missed opportunities.

Toronto tallied nine hits, all singles, and stranded nine runners on base. The Blue Jays scored one run in two playoff games after averaging 4.6 runs per game in the regular season.

“One run in two games, one extra-base hit isn’t going to cut it,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “This time of the year, it’s timely hitting.”

Gray (1-0) struck out six batters in five scoreless innings. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Five Twins relievers combined for four shutout innings. Duran punctuated the bullpen’s performance by striking out three in the ninth, while allowing just a single, to earn his second save in as many days.

Blue Jays right-hander Jose Berrios (0-1) was charged with one run in three-plus innings. He gave up three hits, walked one and struck out five.

The game remained scoreless until the fourth, when the Twins grabbed a 2-0 lead.

Royce Lewis drew a walk against Berrios to lead off the inning, which prompted Schneider to replace the right-hander with left-hander Yusei Kikuchi.

The pitching change failed to pay off for the Blue Jays. Max Kepler reached on an infield single in the next at-bat, and pinch hitter Donovan Solano walked to load the bases with no outs.

Correa delivered with a single to left-center field, driving in Lewis. Kepler scored the Twins’ second run moments later on a double-play grounder by Willi Castro.

“You can sit here and second-guess me, second-guess the organization, second-guess anybody,” Schneider said. “I get that. And it’s tough. And it didn’t work out for us today or yesterday.”

The Blue Jays had runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth when Gray picked off Guerrero to end the inning.

Toronto had another prime scoring chance in the sixth when it loaded the bases with one out. Matt Chapman hooked a line drive just foul down the left field line, and on the next pitch, he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to kill the threat.

The Twins will open the ALDS on Saturday in Houston.

–Tom Musick, Field Level Media

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