MINNEAPOLIS — Nothing was more crucial to the Toronto Blue Jays than a strong start in the first game of the American League wild-card series. Nothing.
Toronto’s offence needed a fast and fierce effort to crack the Minnesota Twins’ notoriously stingy pitching.
It didn’t deliver.
Kevin Gausman, the Blue Jays' Game 1 starter, needed to find a rhythm to make his two-pitch arsenal work.
He didn’t deliver.
And, based on those two principles alone, the Blue Jays fell 3-1 to the Twins at Target Field Tuesday, pushing their season to the brink of elimination.
The numbers, unwavering as they are, tell a sad, simple story about the Blue Jays’ precarious position. Last postseason, teams that scored first in games went 27-13, while clubs that out-homered their opponents went 22-6. The Twins achieved both feats Tuesday.
“Seems like it's been fitting for a while,” said manager John Schneider, referencing his club’s bad luck this season. “I thought, overall, we played a good game and didn't get the breaks that we needed to. And these type of games, damage is a big part of it. And a couple homers got you.”
Gausman’s start was a giant headache from start to finish, and it began eerily similar to the first game of the 2022 wild-card series against the Mariners, when Alek Manoah stumbled. Gausman sweated through a 20-plus pitch first frame, walked a pair, and allowed a back-breaking two-run homer that kicked off an excruciating sequence of events.
“Looking back, obviously too many pitches thrown and too many deep counts,” said Gausman, who allowed three earned runs over four innings. “I made an adjustment in the third, but kind of too late at that point.”
But there was a painful order to this Blue Jays loss, beginning with Gausman’s very first few pitches of the evening, where he objected to the quality of several baseballs. The Blue Jays ace must’ve shook his head and chucked a pearl to the dugout over a dozen times Tuesday. He’s carried a vendetta against MLB’s baseballs for a while. Finally, it bit him on the biggest stage.
“Nothing new,” Gausman said of the ball issues. “But I got a ball that looked like it got grounded to second base. Those things can't happen in the postseason. But, obviously, it's whatever.”
As his focus suffered, the command began to wane. Gausman worked far too many deep counts, and, three batters into the game, Royce Lewis took him yard for that mammoth two-run blast.
— MLB (@MLB) October 3, 2023
Gausman, deep in frustration, tossed his malfunctioning PitchCom earpiece toward the dugout. He took off his hat, shook his sweaty hair, and knocked his cleats back into the rubber. The Minnesota fans made themselves part of the scenery, too, adding a continuous “Gausman, Gausman” chant as each inning grew longer.
Lewis was the clear villain the first time around, and he only amped up his evil lore the second time through with another — even more majestic — home run in the third inning. The Twins rookie was full of history Tuesday, becoming the third player in the modern era to homer in his first two postseason plate appearances.
“In the first inning, I missed my spot by three and a half feet,” Gausman said. “Good hitters are going to make you pay for that.”
Beyond Gausman’s clunker, you could shine the spotlight on several key moments — some mistakes, others just raw luck.
Bo Bichette made a crucial baserunning decision in the fourth inning, rounding third base on a chopper to third that skipped past Jorge Polanco. He doomed himself with a small hesitation, though, and shortstop Carlos Correa nabbed him at the dish by 10 feet for the final out of the frame.
“I thought it was worth a chance,” Bichette said of his dash toward home. “I thought [Correa would] have to make a great play to get me out. And he did.”
Kevin Kiermaier provided the only sliver of offence for the Blue Jays with a two-out RBI single in the sixth. The next batter, Matt Chapman, then struck the ball 401 feet to centre field, only to be robbed on a leaping catch by Michael A. Taylor. Chapman was in disbelief, gazing at the video-board replay as he shucked his helmet and batting gloves.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. kicked off the eighth inning with a double but found himself stranded after three straight outs by Blue Jays hitters. By then, Toronto barely had a chance, as Minnesota’s crowd provided bottomless energy that swallowed every Jays rally in an instant.
Now it’s do or die, and the Blue Jays will have to make drastic moves unless they want their six-game playoff winless streak to grow. On the other side, Minnesota snapped an 18-game postseason losing skid, ending nearly 20 years of utter misery. Each Jays player must now look inward and decide if that’s the battered, twisted fate they want their fans to face.
Starting Wednesday, there’s no tomorrow. No “flush it and move on” or “we’ll get ‘em next time.” The Blue Jays are dead if they don’t win. It’s entirely up to them.
Toronto has chosen darkness all year. This is the Blue Jays’ last chance to step into the light.
“Obviously we're trying to win tomorrow to keep this thing going,” Gausman said. “And [we] have to. We know that. We've been in this situation last year. Last year we came out with our hair on fire in Game 2. Hopefully we can do that again.”