MINNEAPOLIS -- José Berríos enjoyed an ovation from the Minnesota crowd following a tribute video to his Twins career on Thursday, and another when he was introduced as Toronto’s starting pitcher on Friday night, but two friends -- old and new -- spoiled his Twin Cities homecoming.
Rookie right-hander Bailey Ober was every bit Berríos’ match -- and more -- in a continuation of his impressive rookie season, while longtime teammate Byron Buxton crushed a two-run homer in the third inning that proved the difference in a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays at Target Field. It extended Minnesota’s winning streak to four, including two in a row against a playoff-hopeful Toronto side.
“[Berríos] pitched very, very well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Our guys just pitched better today, and that’s really all it came down to. It was a good baseball game. It took a lot. Some things we did well with good at-bats, and especially our pitchers the way they threw the ball.”
Just as he did in his Sunday matchup against the Twins at Rogers Centre, Berríos was mostly his typical stingy self, racking up 10 strikeouts in six frames. But the Twins got through to him with two big swings in the third, when Andrelton Simmons led off with a walk before Luis Arraez clubbed an RBI triple into the right-field corner.
Buxton stepped into the box, got a first-pitch curveball over the heart of the plate and unloaded to straightaway center for his 15th homer of the season, an estimated 416-foot blast that brought him one shy of his career-high of 16 set in 2017 -- but in 87 fewer games. The shot brought Buxton’s hitting streak to seven games, giving him a .915 OPS in 18 games since Sept. 5, following a tough start immediately following his Aug. 27 return from the injured list.
“That’s a guy that we know pretty well, a guy that goes out there and competes,” Buxton said of Berríos. “It’s just all about getting a good pitch to hit and not missing that pitch. And he left a good curveball up, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Buxton has now reached base multiple times in three straight games, and though this isn’t the kind of otherworldly performance that helped him win American League Player of the Month honors in April, his continued ability to avoid strikeouts (he’s struck out multiple times in only three games this month) and attack offspeed pitches, in addition to fastballs continues to show that this type of performance wasn’t merely a hot streak. That looms large ahead of an important offseason for him and the Twins.
“You can prepare for the fastball and be prepared for the breaking ball at the same time,” Baldelli added. “It’s not necessarily easy to do. … He hit it very, very well. Buck’s power to all fields is something that I think [that] he’s always had in him, but we’re really getting a chance to see it these days.”
Buxton’s blast off Berríos gave the Twins a 3-0 lead, and though the right-hander had also allowed three runs in his Sunday start against Minnesota, these three were enough to give the Twins a victory thanks to Ober’s dominant start. He held the Blue Jays scoreless through five frames before a Marcus Semien solo blast ended his effort in the sixth with the rookie having allowed four hits through 5 1/3 frames while striking out six.
Ober used his changeup and curveball more than he did in his Saturday start against these same Blue Jays, when he got tagged for four runs in four innings, and the results showed with no more than one Toronto batter reaching base in each of his innings before he handed the game to his bullpen, which tossed 3 2/3 scoreless frames behind him.
“It's been kind of unreal,” Ober said. “I definitely wouldn't have imagined I'd have been up -- at least the whole entire time [that] I've been here. But it's been great. I've put in a lot of work this last year and a half, and it feels pretty good to see some of that stuff pay off. Being healthy and continuing to learn and get better every single week, it's been pretty awesome.”
Twenty starts into Ober’s career, he has allowed more than four earned runs only once -- and in outdueling the Twins’ former two-time Opening Day starter on Friday, he showed the Twins’ rotation future still has promise following Berríos’ exit.