Well folks, it has been a long season and tonight the Twins begin their last home series of the year against the Toronto Blue Jays. And although the Twins wrapped up their playoff spot a week ago, there's still a lot to play for tonight and over the weekend.
The playoff seedings are still a bit fuzzy because the Twins, Rays and Yankees have all hit the skids over the last week and none appear to be desperate to gobble up that ever so important home-field advantage throughout. With four games to be played against the Blue Jays starting tonight, the Twins still sit just one game back of the Rays for the top spot in the AL.
And while the Rays had to give away tickets to get people in Tropicana Field this week, Target Field is sardine-packed tonight. People weren't spilling in as the first inning got underway either; the seats were filled before Francisco Liriano even threw his first pitch. I can't wait to see what this place looks like next week when the playoffs get underway. Fan support is definitely there for the Twins.
The "franchise" (Liriano) didn't disappoint the early arrivers like he sometimes does. It's the first inning that has been his achilles heal this season, but not tonight. He took care of the Blue Jays in easy fashion, striking out two of the three while needing just 14 pitches.
The real bell cow for the Twins, Joe Mauer stepped into the box in the first inning for the first time since Sept. 19 because of a knee injury and the crowd went bananas. It's great to see him back in the lineup with the playoffs beginning next week.
Some encouraging news for the other half of the M&M boys, Justin Morneau today. He took batting practice with the team and could aim to return for the ALCS, assuming the Twins make it out of the first round. What a blessing and a huge lift that would be for the team as they go after a World Series bid.
Mauer got on first after a throwing error by shortstop Yunel Escobar, but Delmon Young grounded out to Blue Jays pitcher Shawn Hill to end the inning.
0-0 after an inning of play.
Speaking of Young, found out today that he is just the fifth Twins player to record 20+ homers, 40+ doubles and 100+ RBI in a season in their team's history. The others are Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter and Kirby Puckett. Not a bad club to be a part of.
By winning Wednesday night in Kansas City the Twins guaranteed that they would finish the season with a winning road record (41-40).
Edwin Encarnacion blasted the Jays 248th home run of the season off Liriano in the second inning to put them up 2-0. It almost looked unintentional, but it hushed the sellout crowd, no doubt.
More to come as the game progresses...
Another quick note on Young. Of the five players that I mentioned before, only Morneau and Puckett finished those seasons with a plus-.300 batting average. Young is currently batting exactly .300.
The Jays have so much power. Their 248 home runs currently rank fifth in MLB history and the most since Texas hit 260 in 2005. Encarnacion's home run went to the opposite field too, something you rarely see at Target Field from a righty.
Either way, it has the Twins in a 2-0 hole now in the bottom of the fourth inning. Tampa is losing to the Royals 2-0 in the bottom of the third. The Yankees, who are a half game ahead of the Twins for the AL's best record have the night off.
The Jays flex their muscle again. Encarnacion just hit his second homer of the game in the top of the fifth, this one to straight center field and into the trees. The next batter, Jose Molina followed with a homer of his own to right field to put the Jays homer total at 250, giving them sole possession of 4th place all-time for most homers in a season.
4-0 Jays in the top of the fifth inning.
Hard to figure, but the Twins have yet to get a hit tonight through five innings. As I wrote that sentence, rookie Danny Valencia broke the slump with a one-out double.
I’m glad he did because I wanted to throw out some quick stats on the Twins rising third baseman.
Valencia currently ranks near the top amongst AL rookies in several offensive rookies. Most notably his .324 average that ranks him first (minimum of 250 at-bats.) The Twins are 39-22 since the All-Star break in games he has appeared in. During that span they are 32-9 when he gets a hit, 19-4 when he gets an RBI and 15-5 when he scores a run.
His 10 three-hit games are tied for second in all of baseball with Atlanta’s Jason Heyward and behind Austin Jackson’s 16. Here’s the great part, Heyward has played in 139 games, Jackson has played in 148 and Valencia just 81. He’s more of a stud than I ever thought he would be and he’s made a huge splash already in his first year with the big-league club.
Post All-Star break, Valencia ranks first in batting (.326), RBI (37), doubles (15), slugging percentage (.493) and is tied for second in homers (7), hits (74) and on-base percentage (.358) amongst all rookies.
Back to the game. Drew Butera drove in Valencia for the Twin’s first run. Orlando Hudson sent one to deep center with two runners on, but centerfielder Vernon Wells made a superb catch to end the inning.
The very next inning John Buck got the run back with an RBI double to put the Jays lead at 5-1. Liriano exited the game after giving up the double. It wasn’t a good showing to say the least for the Twins ace pitcher. His next start will be game one of the ALDS at this very same spot.
5-1 Blue Jays over Twins heading into the top of the sixth inning.
Michael Cuddyer hit an RBI-triple to bring in Jason Kubel for the second run of the game for the Twins.
J.J.Hardy, who also made his return to the lineup tonight, but struck out with Cuddyer at third and Valencia at first to end the sixth inning threat. But the Twins got another run back. 5-2 Jays after six.
And with one swing of the bat, it's a wrap. Soon to be 2010 home run champ Jose Bautista just let his presence be felt tonight with a grand slam that landed in the first few rows of the left field upper deck. 9-2 Jays and it was his 53rd homer this season. Didn’t get the measurement on it (added later: 428 ft.), but it definitely was one of the more stunning blasts ever hit at Target Field.
Silenced the crowd and silenced my fingers for a few minutes as well. Almost a shock and awe effect on the entire building. His power is unmatched in the major leagues this season.
Albert Pujols is the only other player with over 40 (41.)
The blast was the Jays fourth of the evening and put the Jays up 9-2 heading into the bottom half of the seventh inning.
The crowd at Target Field began pouring out of the building as soon as Orlando Hudson grounded out for the final out of the seventh
39,477 in paid attendance at Target Field tonight.
One good thing to take from tonight is that the Royals beat the Rays 3-2, so the Twins are still one game back for the best record in the AL.
I’m going to sign off now. The crowd is beginning to annoy me and the Blue Jays just hit their fifth homer of the night. This time it was Travis Snider off of crap duty pitcher Jeff Manship.
Jays up 11-2 now. We’ll go ahead and call this one a wrap. Adios and thanks for reading.
(As I'm walking out of the press box I hear a crack, I turn around and Bautista had just hit his 54th homer of the season and his second of the game. That's six homers tonight for the Jays. WOW. Just thought I'd add that for those still tuned in...!)