Twins advance for 1st time in 21 years with 2-0 win to sweep Blue Jays behind Gray, Correa
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Carlos Correa endured the worst hitting season of his career after signing the richest contract in Minnesota Twins history, playing through a painful bout of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
The defense, intelligence and leadership were always there, though. Postseason prowess was part of the package, too.
Correa had an RBI single and a quick-twitch tag on a pivotal pickoff throw from Sonny Gray, and the Twins swept the Toronto Blue Jays with a 2-0 win in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series on Wednesday.
“Everything is October. The mentality is different. I’m just giving everything out there, everything I have,” Correa said. “I’m going to keep doing that for the rest of the time that I’m here in Minnesota.”
The Twins advanced — for the first time in 21 years — to play the defending World Series champion Astros. Game 1 of the best-of-five AL Division Series is in Houston on Saturday.
That’s familiar territory for Correa, who spent seven seasons with the Astros. He signed with Minnesota in 2022 and re-upped for $200 million this year after agreed-to deals with the Giants and Mets fell apart over concern about an old ankle injury.
“Superstars show up in the biggest moments,” Gray said. “Just the way he sees the game, the way he can slow it down, is a special player.”
Correa helped Houston reach three World Series, winning it all in 2017, and he’s one round into another memorable October.
“They’ve got a great team, and so do we,” Correa said. “Everywhere you look, we’re ready.”
The two-time All-Star, who went 3 for 7 with a hit-by-pitch against the Blue Jays, ripped a bases-loaded single in a two-run fourth. The patient Twins delivered precisely when they needed to at the plate, and their bullpen tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the series.
Jhoan Duran, after a delay to tend to a cut on his thumb following his warmup, struck out the side in the ninth to trigger a celebration around the mound.
The Blue Jays, who lost their seventh straight game in the playoffs since the AL Championship Series in 2016, left nine runners on base in each game. Matt Chapman had a line drive hook just foul before grounding into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the sixth against Caleb Thielbar.
“One run in two games, one extra-base hit isn’t going to cut it,” Toronto manager John Schneider said.
Minnesota, after stopping a record 18-game postseason skid with the 3-1 win in Game 1, ended a nine-round losing streak that started with an ALCS defeat in 2002. The Atlanta Braves (2001-2019) and Chicago Cubs (1910-1998) share the all-time mark with 10 straight series lost.
The Blue Jays made Gray work for his first career win in the playoffs, but the veteran right-hander finished five effective innings. He had three inning-ending strikeouts, before the slick move to finish the fifth when he was in the most trouble.
Gray threw a wild pitch that put runners on second and third. But with a full count on Bo Bichette, Gray whipped around and threw to the shortstop Correa, who grabbed the ball and grazed Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s chest with his glove a split-second before Guerrero’s hand hit the base.
Correa noticed the Blue Jays were taking big leads and having trouble hearing with the crowd noise, so he told Gray he’d signal when to try a pickoff.
“I told him there were some free outs on the bases,” Correa said. “It felt like the right situation to do it.”
The sellout crowd of 38,518 was even more into the action than Game 1, standing in anticipation of every inning-ending out for the Twins and thriving off the bulldog energy that Gray brought to the mound. He finished third in the major leagues in ERA (2.79) during the regular season and logged 184 innings, his most since 2015.
Gray, who is eligible for free agency after the World Series, grew emotional in his pregame news conference on Tuesday when talking about the motivation that he gets from his two boys. His son, Declan, even issued an ultimatum to his dad before the series: “You better not lose.”
Blue Jays starter Jose Berríos threw three scoreless innings against his former team, but Schneider followed through on his promise that the entire pitching staff, excluding Game 1 starter Kevin Gausman, was available to try to extend the series.
Schneider pulled the right-hander Berríos after a leadoff walk by Game 1 star Royce Lewis in the fourth inning. Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, one of four Blue Jays who made 31 or more starts this season, was greeted by a single by Max Kepler. Pinch-hitter Donovan Solano walked, Correa put the Twins up with his single, and pinch-hitter Willi Castro’s double-play groundout got another run on the board.
“He had electric stuff,” Schneider said of Berríos. “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.”
Lewis, whose recovering hamstring strain has limited him to designated-hitter duty, hit a slow roller up the third base line in his first at-bat that prompted a sprint out of the box. The ball rolled foul, making his hustle moot. Then when he hit a grounder straight to shortstop for an inning-ending double play, he cautiously jogged at about half-speed to first.
Minnesota’s postseason series losing streak started with the Angels in 2002 and included the Yankees six times, in the divisional rounds in 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2019 and in a single wild-card game in 2017. The Twins also lost a division series to the A’s in 2006 and a wild-card series to the Astros in 2020. Their division tiebreaker win over the Tigers in 2009 was considered part of the regular season.
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Minnesota Twins mascots Minny and Paul stand over Target Field during a baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles, Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)