The Toronto Blue Jays kicked off their post-season with a whimper on Tuesday afternoon by dropping a 3-1 decision to the host Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
Royce Lewis hit two home runs as the Twins took the opener of the best-of-three American League wild-card series and ended an 18-game playoff losing streak.
The Blue Jays managed six hits and starter Kevin Gausman (12-9 in regular season) lasted only four innings. He gave up three earned runs, three hits and three walks while striking out five.
Minnesota starter Pablo Lopez (11-8) was effective over his 5 2/3-inning appearance. He gave up one earned run and five hits.
Jhoan Duran issued a two-out walk to Whit Merrifield before locking down the save.
Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. The AL Central Division champion Twins will host all games in the series as the higher-seeded team.
Toronto’s playoff losing skid, which dates back to 2016, rose to six games. The Blue Jays have been swept in the wild-card series in two of the last three years.
With Quebec City native Edouard Julien aboard after a leadoff walk, Lewis turned on a full-count pitch from Gausman to put a charge into the announced crowd of 38,450.
Gausman also walked a pair in the opening frame and had difficulty with his PitchCom electronic pitch-calling device. His 26-pitch inning ended when he struck out Carlos Correa.
The Twins showed off their defence in the second when Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch on an Alejandro Kirk flare to shallow centre field. Toronto’s Daulton Varsho flashed some defensive skills of his own in the bottom half with a sliding catch on a Ryan Jeffers’ liner.
Lewis was at it again in the third inning. The 2017 first overall pick belted a 3-1 pitch off the facing of the second deck in right field.
Lopez, meanwhile, didn’t allow a hit until Bo Bichette hit a one-out single in the fourth.
Bichette later tried to score from second base when Kevin Kiermaier’s infield single rolled under third baseman Jorge Polanco’s glove. Correa picked up the ball and fired a strike to Jeffers, who applied the tag for the third out.
Toronto threatened again in the fifth after Matt Chapman reached on an infield single and advanced on a fielder’s choice and sacrifice fly. He was stranded at third base when Brandon Belt struck out.
Lewis got a standing ovation when he came to bat for his third plate appearance. Reliever Erik Swanson walked him on five pitches.
Lewis was the designated hitter in his first appearance since straining a hamstring two weeks ago. Correa, who had been out since Sept. 18 with a foot issue, returned at shortstop and batted sixth.
Bichette made it 3-1 in the sixth when he scored on a Kiermaier single that moved Kirk to second base. That was the end of the line for Lopez, who walked a pair and had three strikeouts.
Louie Varland came on and Chapman almost put Toronto ahead. Taylor coolly snagged the deep drive at the top of the wall to keep Minnesota’s lead intact.
The Blue Jays brought the potential tying run to the plate in the eighth inning after Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s leadoff double. But Griffin Jax struck out a pair and got Kirk to ground out.
Earlier in the day, the Blue Jays unveiled their 26-man wild-card series roster. Toronto went with 14 position players and 12 pitchers.
Infielder Davis Schneider and speedy backup outfielder Cam Eden made the cut. Veteran starter Hyun Jin Ryu and reliever Bowden Francis did not.
Jose Berrios is tabbed to start Game 2 for the Blue Jays against Sonny Gray. If a third game is necessary, it will be played Thursday.
Toronto (89-73) had the better regular-season record than Minnesota (87-75) but the Twins are the higher seed as a division winner.
The series winner will advance to the AL Division Series against the Houston Astros.
Chris Bassitt was a heavy favourite to get the Game 3 starting assignment for Toronto. The Blue Jays were expected to make it official later Tuesday or on Wednesday.
Bassitt and Tampa Bay’s Zach Elfin led the AL with 16 wins this season.
Lewis became the third player in big-league history to hit home runs in each of his first two playoff plate appearances, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
The others were Evan Longoria in 2008 with Tampa Bay and Gary Gaetti with the 1987 Twins.
The Twins and Blue Jays previously met in the 1991 AL Championship Series. Minnesota won in five games.
Toronto won the World Series the following year and repeated as champions in 1993.
Berrios gets a chance to play his former team in a playoff setting. The Toronto right-hander spent parts of six seasons with the Twins after being drafted by Minnesota in 2012.
The Canadian Press