TWINS STOP RECORD 18-GAME POSTSEASON SKID ON STRENGTH OF ROYCE LEWIS HOME RUNS
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Royce Lewis felt a jolt of confidence from his inclusion on Minnesota’s roster for the AL Wild Card Series, ending the uncertainty around his hamstring strain.
Pablo López found inspiration in his closet, wearing a throwback jersey of his boyhood hero Johan Santana who just happened to be the last Twins pitcher to win a game in the playoffs.
The Twins and their fans fed off the energy, finally stopping that record 18-game postseason skid.
Lewis smashed the streak into the seats, homering in each of his first two at-bats to carry the Twins to a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of their AL Wild Card Series on Tuesday.
“It was a blessing to play today. That atmosphere was electric,” said Lewis, whose two-run shot off Kevin Gausman in the first inning and leadoff drive in the third sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
The bigger celebration occurred a few hours later when Jhoan Duran pitched a hitless ninth to close the first victory for the Twins in the playoffs since Oct. 5, 2004, and vanquish the longest postseason skid in major North American professional sports.
“This was my team growing up. It’s still my team,” said Caleb Thielbar, a Minnesota native who pitched a perfect seventh. “I know how people feel, and I know what weight was lifted off everyone’s backs today.”
It was the first home win for the Twins in the playoffs since Game 1 of the ALCS in 2002 at the Metrodome. Lewis was a 3-year-old then. He’s the type of big-time player – with five grand slams in 70 career games – that could lead the Twins on an actual postseason run instead of just hanging a division title banner and leaving the party after three or four days.
“I thought the place was going to split open and melt, honestly,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was out of this universe out there on the field. The fans took over the game. They helped us win today.”
López also had a strong playoff debut for Minnesota, permitting one run and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. After wearing his Santana jersey to the ballpark, he delivered a performance that was reminiscent of his fellow Venezuelan.
“Sometimes things line up too perfectly to pass up on those opportunities,” López said.
Game 2 is Wednesday afternoon. The entire series is at Target Field.
“You don’t want to say like an over sense of urgency, but these guys know it’s going to take everybody to get to Game 3,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said.
The Blue Jays finally got on the board when Kevin Kiermaier’s two-out single drove in Bo Bichette in the sixth, but they left nine runners on base.
The Blue Jays carried their own October angst into this series, having not won a postseason game since the 2016 ALCS. They took two-game sweeps as wild cards in 2020 and 2022, and Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – two franchise cornerstones and the celebrated sons of former major leaguers – have not yet won a postseason game.
Gausman finished four innings with three hits and three walks, his second-shortest start of the season. The right-hander frequently asked for a new ball early in his outing and even had trouble at one point with the wireless PitchCom device that is used to prevent sign stealing.
He finished better than he started but was never able to escape the full-count fastball to Lewis in the first inning that he said he misplaced by 3½ feet.
“Good hitters are going to make you pay for that,” Gausman said. “Obviously he’s hitting in the ‘3’ hole for a reason.”
López and his four relievers got plenty of defensive help. Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch of a sharp line drive to center by Alejandro Kirk in the second and a leaping grab at the wall to take an extra-base hit away from a fuming Matt Chapman in the sixth. Max Kepler crashed against the same padding to catch Guerrero’s long fly ball in the fourth.
The most vital play of all was later in that inning, when Kiermaier’s two-out roller eluded third baseman Jorge Polanco as Bichette rounded for home with two outs. Carlos Correa backed him up from shortstop and threw a strike to the plate to end the inning.
“Once I saw Bo look at the ball, I knew he had intentions,” Correa said. “I could see in his eyes.”
Lewis became the third player in MLB history to hit home runs in each of his first two career postseason plate appearances, following Evan Longoria for the Rays in 2008 and Gary Gaetti for the Twins in 1987.
Blue Jays: RHP José Berríos (11-12, 3.65 ERA) will start Game 2 against the team he pitched 5½ seasons for until a trade to Toronto on July 30, 2021. He made postseason starts for the Twins in 2019 and 2020. “I love pitching in this ballpark because the dugout is so close, so I look like I throw 100,” Berríos said.
Twins: RHP Sonny Gray (8-8, 2.79 ERA) will take the mound Wednesday for the first postseason start for the 11-year veteran since 2017 in Game 4 of the ALDS for the Yankees.
DIAMONDBACKS HIT BURNES HARD TO RALLY FOR 6-3 VICTORY OVER BREWERS IN WILD CARD SERIES OPENER
MILWAUKEE (AP) Corbin Carroll and the Arizona Diamondbacks are one resilient bunch. Staring at an early deficit against Corbin Burnes, they slugged their way to the front of their NL Wild Card Series.
Carroll and Ketel Marte homered on back-to-back pitches and Gabriel Moreno also went deep, sending the Diamondbacks to a 6-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night in the opener of their best-of-three series.
Arizona is making the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2017, and it had been 0-14 in postseason games when trailing by at least three runs. But this is a tested group of Diamondbacks who had to push all the way to the final days of the season to secure an NL wild card.
So that 3-0 hole with Burnes on the mound for the Brewers was just another challenge that had to be overcome.
“He is a really good pitcher,” said Carroll, who added another memorable performance to his breakout rookie season. “We wanted to get him out of there. I thought we took really patient at-bats and got rewarded with that patience by getting some balls in the middle of the plate that we were able to put some good swings on.”
The rally put Arizona in a prime position to advance. Game 2 is Wednesday, and the Diamondbacks have All-Star Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly lined up after rookie Brandon Pfaadt lasted just 2 2/3 innings in the opener.
Arizona’s comeback began when Carroll followed Geraldo Perdomo’s one-out single in the third with a 444-foot drive into the second deck of the stands in right-center. On Burnes’ next pitch, Marte sent a cutter over the right-field wall to tie the game.
Moreno put the Diamondbacks in front by homering for the first time since Sept. 2. Moreno’s 425-foot shot in the fourth came on a 2-2 slider.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo felt Carroll’s homer was a turning point.
“I think at that point, we all exhaled,” Lovullo said, “and I think we collectively got our feet underneath us and felt very good about the direction in which we were going.”
Third baseman Evan Longoria protected Arizona’s 4-3 lead in the fifth by robbing Tyrone Taylor of a bases-loaded hit and turning it into an inning-ending double play. Christian Walker provided some insurance with a two-run double off Devin Williams in the ninth.
Taylor hit a two-run homer for Milwaukee. The NL Central champion Brewers left the bases loaded in the first and third, and they failed to score after loading the bases with nobody out in the fifth.
Arizona’s Joe Mantiply, Miguel Castro, Ryne Nelson, Ryan Thompson, Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald combined for 6 1/3 innings of shutout relief.
“Our bullpen is the reason why we won this game,” Lovullo said.
Milwaukee appeared to have a starting pitching advantage for Game 1 by virtue of clinching its playoff berth early enough to set up its postseason rotation. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Gallen pitched Friday and Kelly went on Saturday, so the Diamondbacks opted against using them on short rest and instead started Pfaadt. Although Pfaadt yielded three runs and seven hits before departing in the third, Burnes also struggled.
Burnes retired seven of the first eight batters he faced but faltered the rest of the way. The 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner allowed four runs through the first four innings and left after he walked the only two batters he faced in the fifth.
“When I was executing pitches the first couple of innings, we got quick outs, and a lot of ground balls, some strikeouts,” Burnes said. “Then when I stopped executing pitches, they didn’t miss.”
Longoria said the Diamondbacks benefited from their regular-season experience against Burnes.
The three-time All-Star pitched eight shutout innings in a 7-1 victory over Arizona in April, but he gave up seven runs over five innings in a 9-1 loss to the Diamondbacks two months later.
“It doesn’t mean that we were going to get to him today, but I think it just gave us a little bit of confidence knowing that we were able to have some success against him the last time that we faced him,” Longoria said.
Longoria helped the Diamondbacks survive a shaky relief performance from Nelson, who typically starts rather than working out of the bullpen.
Milwaukee trailed 4-3 when Sal Frelick and Willy Adames opened the sixth with back-to-back singles. Nelson then walked Josh Donaldson to load the bases for Brice Turang.
It was initially ruled that Nelson’s first pitch to Turang hit him around the foot, which would have brought in the tying run. But the Diamondbacks challenged the call, and it was overturned on a replay review.
Turang struck out, and Thompson got the final two outs with a huge assist from Longoria, a three-time Gold Glove winner. Taylor’s high, screaming liner was grabbed by Longoria, who threw from his knees to double Adames off second.
“I kind of just jumped and threw my glove up,” Longoria said. “Sometimes those plays, I think, it’s just a reaction. … I threw my glove up there and I felt it hit my glove. I couldn’t actually believe I caught it.”
Arizona outfielder Jake McCarthy was removed from the team’s Wild Card Series roster shortly before the start of Game 1 due to a right oblique strain. Utilityman Jace Peterson replaced McCarthy on the roster.
Under MLB postseason rules, McCarthy wouldn’t be able to play for the Diamondbacks until the NL Championship Series, if they get that far.
Gallen (17-9, 3.47 ERA) is pitching for Arizona in Game 2. Freddy Peralta (12-10, 3.86 ERA) starts for Milwaukee.
WHEELER STRIKES OUT 8, CASTELLANOS TELLS PHILLIES TO PUT A RING ON IT IN 4-1 WIN OVER MARLINS
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Flip that finger, Nick.
The ring one, of course. Nick Castellanos had no desire to turn his moment on second base into a NSFW moment in the postseason.
The All-Star slugger did – with millions briefly confusing the gesture for the obscene finger – direct his ring finger toward a joyous Phillies dugout, sending a message that the defending NL champions are chasing the World Series ring they were denied by Houston last year.
“That’s why we’re playing this month,” Castellanos said.
Zack Wheeler struck out eight in a sensational effort, José Alvarado preserved the lead with a pivotal strikeout and Philadelphia opened a resolute postseason push with a 4-1 win over the Miami Marlins in the opener of their NL Wild Card Series on Tuesday night.
“As soon as I stepped foot out of the dugout to go stretch out there in the bullpen, the crowd went nuts and I got chills,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler quickly started dealing and got the run support needed to put the Marlins on the ropes.
Led by Kyle Schwarber’s 47 homers, the Phillies had six players in the Game 1 lineup with at least 20. But they didn’t need the Schwarbombs and Alec Booms to get the job done, as every starter had at least one hit, without a home run.
Castellanos added an RBI double in the eighth inning to score Bryce Harper – who knocked off his helmet as he steamrolled past a stop sign – and the Phillies moved within a victory of an NL Division Series matchup against Atlanta.
“Bryce does that all the time and he’s miraculously safe more often than not,” Castellanos said with a laugh.
Wheeler allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings. Craig Kimbrel worked a scoreless ninth for the save.
Phillies fans held signs that read “Un-phinished Business” and they were downright delirious when injured slugger Rhys Hoskins fought back tears and threw the ceremonial first pitch.
Castellanos did, too. He wore Hoskins’ No. 17 on the side of his cap this season in tribute to the first baseman who spiked his bat on a home run last season in an NLDS victory.
“He symbolizes Philadelphia, honestly more than any of the signees that have come here after the fact,” Castellanos said.
The Phillies won 11 postseason games last season, two shy of the ultimate goal and their first World Series title since 2008. The theme of unfinished business – as it is for so many World Series losers – was a key element that permeated throughout the clubhouse this season.
“We’ve got to get back after it this year, and it’s a different team,” manager Rob Thomson said. “I believe it’s a better team, to be honest with you.”
Here they are again, this time with star shortstop Trea Turner, playing big games in October – and with Wheeler in top form.
Wheeler, on the short list of great free-agent signings in team history, brought the heat from the start. He threw nine fastballs in the 97-99 mph range in the first inning, the hardest a pitcher who struck out 212 batters has thrown all season.
The veteran right-hander never backed down as 45,662 fans at Citizens Bank Park roared on every K.
Wheeler’s slider, nasty. His sinker, filthy.
Wheeler is simply grateful for another postseason shot a year after he was lifted with a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning of Game 6 in the World Series against Houston. Yordan Alvarez hit a three-run homer off Alvarado later in the inning and the Astros soon clinched the World Series.
That was last season.
This time, Wheeler took a two-hit shutout into the seventh and was pulled after allowing consecutive infield singles with two outs, the second one by Bryan De La Cruz driving in Miami’s only run.
Alvarado struck out pinch-hitter Yuli Gurriel with two runners aboard to protect a 3-1 lead. The left-hander retired two batters in the eighth, and Jeff Hoffman got the third out of the inning.
The Marlins finished with seven hits.
“I think they know what’s at stake,” manager Skip Schumaker said. “They know what tomorrow means. We’re going to do the same thing we’ve always done.”
Wheeler threw only 46 pitches through four innings – while Marlins starter Jesús Luzardo labored through 90 over the same span.
The 26-year-old Luzardo was raised in South Florida and grew up rooting for Marlins stars such as Juan Pierre and Miguel Cabrera.
Luzardo was 6 years old when he attended Game 3 of the 2003 World Series, won by the Marlins, and was thrilled when he was traded to Miami ahead of the 2021 season.
His first postseason start for his childhood team hardly went as planned.
Johan Rojas, the No. 9 hitter, hammered away at Luzardo with a nine-pitch at-bat for a single that opened the third. He scored on Alec Bohm’s RBI double to left field.
Luzardo gave up run-scoring singles to Bryson Stott and Cristian Pache that made it 3-0 in the third.
“We’ve just got to keep this going,” Harper said. “Leave no doubt.”
Hoskins choked back tears, patted his chest in appreciation and even waved a rally towel before he threw the first pitch. The slugging first baseman has not played this season after he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. The 30-year-old Hoskins – playing on a $12 million, one-year contract – might have made his last appearance at Citizens Bank Park.
Hoskins said he will head to Florida on Wednesday to face live pitching with hopes he could return to the Phillies if they make the World Series.
“As much as I want to be here, this is part of the way that I get a chance to be on the field with these guys again,” Hoskins said. “I’ve got to do everything I can to give myself that opportunity.”
Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel posted a picture on social media of him watching the game from a hospital room. Manuel led the Phillies to the 2008 World Series title. He suffered a stroke in September.
The Marlins send LHP Braxton Garrett (9-7, 3.66 ERA) to the mound Wednesday night against Phillies RHP Aaron Nola (12-9, 4.46). Nola went 2-2 in last year’s postseason – winning a game in each of the first two rounds, then losing one in each of the next two. Garrett gave up three runs over five innings in each of his two starts vs. the Phillies this season.
MONTGOMERY SPARKLES, RANGERS BEAT SLOPPY RAYS 4-0 IN AL WILD CARD SERIES OPENER
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Jordan Montgomery was exceptional against the Tampa Bay Rays, even better when he lumbered off the mound to make a diving catch that helped the Texas Rangers to a 4-0 victory in their AL Wild Card Series opener.
“It’s good to do your job and help the team win,” Montgomery said after scattering six hits over seven innings on Tuesday to move the Rangers within a victory of an AL Division Series matchup against the Baltimore Orioles.
Texas rebounded from a weekend collapse that cost the Rangers the AL West title and a first-round playoff bye. The Rays dropped a club-record sixth straight postseason game dating to Game 2 of the 2021 AL Division Series against Boston.
Montgomery’s pitching set the tone as the best-of-three series began. The Rangers also drew inspiration from the 6-foot-6 left-hander’s defensive gem on a bunt that Jose Siri popped into the air along the first-base line with runners at the corners.
Montgomery dove to make the catch and landed awkwardly.
“I saw it high enough in the air, kind of made two quick steps at it, and then just blacked out and went for it,” Montgomery said.
“That was electric. I was fired up,” said rookie left fielder Evan Carter, who doubled twice and drew a pair of walks in his postseason debut.
“It wasn’t a soft landing was it? He’s a big fellow,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “Great catch by him. We were in a tight situation there. … Just shows you how competitive he is to go out there and dive for that ball.”
Bochy and Rangers athletic trainers went to the mound to check on Montgomery, who was not injured.
“I think I was just as shocked as everybody in the stands. I had to backhand it. … It just was something I’ve never done before,” the pitcher said. “I don’t know if I’ve done that since I was 12. Just kind of a heat-of-the-moment competitive thing.”
Corey Seager and Josh Jung drove in runs and the Rangers benefitted from four errors by the Rays, who also fizzled offensively before a crowd of just 19,704 – roughly 5,300 below listed capacity – at Tropicana Field.
“We didn’t hit, pitch or defend,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “When you’re up against a good team, they’re going to capitalize, and they eventually really did.”
Tampa Bay, wearing throwback Devil Rays jerseys in the style of 1998-2000, has reached the postseason for the fifth straight season but has one run in its last three playoff defeats, hitting .133.
Montgomery, a 30-year-old left-hander acquired from St. Louis at the trade deadline, retired 14 of his last 16 batters. He fanned pinch-hitter Junior Caminero, Tampa Bay’s top minor league prospect, to end his outing with five strikeouts and no walks.
Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect eighth and José Leclerc worked around a walk in the ninth to finish a six-hitter, the Rangers’ first postseason shutout since the 2011 World Series.
“We’re not going to alter our approach. This team has scored a lot of runs this year. It’s a good hitting lineup,” Cash said. “We got shut down today. I’m very confident that we’re going to bounce back and have some good at-bats.”
Tyler Glasnow (0-1) yielded a sacrifice fly to Jung in the second inning, and the right-hander’s wild pitch allowed Texas to score its second run after the Rangers loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth.
Texas, 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position while stranding nine baserunners through five innings, opened a 4-0 lead in the sixth with additional help from the normally sure-handed Rays, who committed four errors – Tampa Bay’s most in a postseason game since 2008.
Glasnow walked the first two batters in the sixth and Seager greeted Chris Devenski with a run-scoring single. A second run scored on the play when centerfielder Jose Siri threw wildly past third base.
Montgomery, who is eligible for free agency after the World Series, was 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA over his final four starts.
Glasnow allowed four runs and six hits in five-plus innings with eight strikeouts and five walks.
The mother of Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena joined her son on the field to throw a ceremonial first pitch before the game.
Sandra Gonzalez made the trip to Tropicana Field from Mexico to watch Arozarena play in person for the first time as a major leaguer. She only recently obtained a visa and arrived in Florida on Monday.
Gonzalez played catch with the All-Star outfielder near the home dugout before taking the mound and tossing a strike to Arozarena, who was squatting in a catcher’s position behind the plate.
The Rays-Rangers series is a family affair in more ways than one, with brothers Josh Lowe of Tampa Bay and Nathaniel Lowe of Texas facing off in October for the first time. Their mother, Wendy, was unable to attend because she is battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.
“It hurts her that she’s not going to be here today. She’s entering her third week of chemo and radiation, and she’s got brain cancer, so yeah, it’s a lot to go through,” Nathaniel said before the game.
“It’s a pretty heavy toll,” the Texas first baseman added. “I know Josh has done a pretty good job of putting it aside and compartmentalizing it and performing. But it’s something that we’re all learning to deal with and go forward with.”
Texas right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (12-5, 3.63 ERA) starts Wednesday, and the Rays will counter with AL wins co-leader Zach Eflin (16-8).
TERRY FRANCONA STEPS AWAY AS CLEVELAND’S WINNINGEST MANAGER, 2 WORLD SERIES TITLES WITH BOSTON
CLEVELAND (AP) — Terry Francona stepped away from baseball, at least temporarily, on Tuesday, ending a 23-year managerial career that began in Philadelphia, peaked with two World Series titles in Boston and concluded with an 11-season stay in Cleveland.
Guardians president Chris Antonetti said the 64-year-old Francona would have a role with the team moving forward but did not specify what it would entail.
“I need to go home and get healthy and see what I miss about the game,” Francona said. “I don’t foresee managing again.”
Slowed by serious medical issues in recent years, Francona intends to spend more time playing with his grandkids, getting healthy (shoulder replacement surgery is scheduled for next week) and enjoying an extended offseason after a 40-plus-years grind.
He’d been reluctant to say he’ll retire, leaving open the possibility of a return.
“I came here for the right reasons,” he said. “I’m leaving for the right reasons and what was in between was really good.”
A beloved baseball lifer, Francona, who was an outfielder for 10 seasons in the major leagues before injuries forced him to retire as a player, made a lasting imprint on the game for over four decades.
Known to everyone as “Tito,” his father’s name, Francona led with charm, humor and an uncanny ability to connect with people.
“There is no one like him,” said Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who played for Francona in Boston. “There’s one Tito. I just wish I had more time with him.”
In typical fashion, Francona had asked the Guardians not to make a big deal about his possible retirement over the final month of the season to keep the focus on his young team, which was unable to overcome a slew of injuries in 2023 and defend its AL Central title.
Cleveland finished 76-86 — just the club’s second losing record since Francona took over as manager in 2013.
Following Sunday’s season finale in Detroit, Francona hugged each of his players as they came off the field.
“I just needed to tell them ‘thank you,’” Francona said. “We didn’t accomplish what we set out to this year, but they didn’t shortchange anybody in effort and they’re such good kids.”
Cleveland said goodbye to Francona last week, with the team sending him off with an emotional video tribute before the home finale. Fans wore red “Thank You Tito” T-shirts and chanted his name during the ninth inning of a 4-3 win over Cincinnati.
After the final out, Francona came out of the dugout for a curtain call and tipped his cap toward the Progressive Field crowd for the last time.
The Guardians now have to find his replacement, who will have a monumental challenge in filling Francona’s shoes.
He is both the winningest (921 victories) and longest-tenured manager in the club’s 123-year history. With 1,950 wins, Francona is 13th on the career list, sandwiched by Casey Stengel (1,905) and Leo Durocher (2,008), two other colorful managers who like Francona endeared themselves to fans and players.
Every manager on the list ahead of Francona is a Hall of Famer except for Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy, who remain active and likely will be enshrined one day.
Francona’s rise as one of the game’s best managers was somewhat unexpected.
Things didn’t go particularly well for him in Philadelphia, where he had four straight losing seasons from 1997-2000, got constantly booed in a demanding, sports-crazed city and had the tires on his car slashed on fan appreciation day.
He was an unlikely choice to get Boston’s job, and he immediately claimed legendary status by winning the World Series in his first season.
The Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit in the AL Championship Series and then swept St. Louis to end an 86-year championship drought and exorcise the “Curse of the Bambino,” a perceived hex on the team after it traded Babe Ruth to the rival New York Yankees.
When his tenure with the Red Sox ended in 2011 amid some controversy, Francona took a year off and worked in broadcasting before he was hired in Cleveland, where his dad spent six seasons and he himself played 62 games in 1988.
Despite budget-conscious payrolls, Francona kept the Guardians competitive each season, helped them develop what has been termed a “pitching factory” and guided the team, then known as the Indians, within one swing of winning the World Series in 2016.
Francona was named AL Manager of the Year three times with Cleveland.