TORONTO -- The Twins’ past met the Twins’ future at Rogers Centre -- and had it not been for a first-inning stumble, the future might have come out on top.
Though José Berríos had expressed only cautious enthusiasm about facing his old team when asked at the start of this three-game series, he was still the vintage Berríos that everyone in the visitors’ dugout remembered over his 6 2/3 strong innings. Twins rookies Nick Gordon and Ben Rortvedt drove in three runs against their former teammate, but a five-run first inning by the Blue Jays sank Minnesota in a 5-3 loss on Sunday afternoon.
“All day long, from the first pitch of the game to the last one, I never felt like, ‘Oh, I want to beat this guy,’” Berríos said. “I tried to enjoy the day. I’ve never had a day like that before, obviously. Now, I’ve faced it, and it was fun.”
Who could have foreseen this scenario at all at the start of the season, with Berríos pitching in an opponent’s uniform against the only organization he’d known as a professional? Certainly not manager Rocco Baldelli.
“I would not have anticipated it in any way,” Baldelli said. “But here we are, and we have to react to everything that goes on. Things don't always go according to the plan that you lay out. You have to do what's best, even if that's not something you planned for and you hadn't thought about for a long period of time.”
But here the Twins are, on their way to their first losing season since 2018, having traded their two-time Opening Day starter away to the contending Blue Jays while opening up opportunities for rookies like Gordon and Rortvedt looking to build experience and make their case for additional playing time on future Minnesota teams.
For much of the contest, the Twins’ relief corps actually outpitched Berríos by holding the potent Toronto offense scoreless beyond that first inning, while Gordon’s two-run double to the left-field corner in the fourth ate into Minnesota’s deficit. The infielder owns a .294/.368/.417 slash line in 13 games this month, during which he has started at five different positions to set himself up for a super-utility future.
Rortvedt’s solo blast to right with two outs in the seventh chased Berríos and gave the Twins five rookies with at least three homers this season, matching the 2013 team for the second-most such rookies in club history.
But that tough opening frame by right-hander Luke Farrell in his first “start” since 2019 still proved too much to overcome. Though he entered the game with three runs allowed in 20 2/3 innings, he more than doubled that total by allowing all five Blue Jays runs on seven consecutive hits before Nick Vincent, Juan Minaya, Caleb Thielbar and Danny Coulombe silenced the Jays for the remainder of the game.
“José threw the ball well, too, [but] we had some pretty good at-bats against him,” Baldelli said. “The bullpen, everyone that came in, did a [darn] good job. I mean, just to hold that lineup at that point and just kind of halt it in time for seven innings was what we needed. We got it. We just needed to score a little bit more."
That still proved difficult against Berríos, who looked all too familiar -- albeit with a modified delivery and added usage of his changeup against right-handed hitters -- as he held the Twins to three runs in 6 2/3 frames, giving him a 3.39 ERA in 10 starts for the Blue Jays since he was traded at the July 30 Trade Deadline for Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson.
“Yeah, to be honest, I didn’t see anything specifically that we were able to bring to the table with the added exposure that we’d gotten to José and being able to watch him all these years,” Baldelli said. “I think he made a lot of good pitches.”
The Twins’ skipper noted that different players handle these reunions differently. Some focus on their work and try to tune out their old teammates -- but that wasn’t Berríos, who acknowledged all of his former teammates, Baldelli said, and had Miguel Sanó smiling throughout his first plate appearance.
“My mom called me yesterday and told me, hey, she knows I was playing for [the Twins], but now I’m a Toronto Blue Jay, but just do your work,” Berríos said. “I said, ‘Yes, mom, but they still feel like my good friends.’”