Note to readers: Columnist La Velle E. Neal III will be updating this regularly from the Target Field press box during Tuesday's Game 1. Follow along and comment, and keep a closer eye on the action with live pitch-by-pitch updates on our Star Tribune GameView.
6:29 p.m.: Ding, dong, the streak is dead
Nothing lasts forever. Twins fans, say it with me: Thank heavens.
Royce Lewis had a postseason debut for the ages, Pablo Lopez pitched like an ace, and the Twins beat Toronto 3-1 in Game 1 of the wild-card series.
Lewis hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a solo blast in the third to account for the runs. Jhoan Duran issued a two-out walk in the ninth but Donovan Solano made a diving stop on a grounder to end the game.
And now the Twins' 18-game postseason losing streak is finished.
They can win a postseason series for the first time since 2002 when they send Sonny Gray to the mound on Wednesday.
This came after manager Rocco Baldelli made an interesting move in the eighth.
Rocco had Chris Paddack and Brock Stewart to bring in heat. But he sticks to the plan he's used most of the regular season and goes with Griffin Jax, who runs hot and cold.
Jax was hot today. He shook off a leadoff double, struck out two, got a ground out to first and got through the inning.
There were three outs to go. The sellout crowd of 38,450 is on edge. To be clear, there are noticeable empty seats here. But the Twins claim anything over 38,000 to be a sellout. For comparison, only 19,704 watched Tampa Bay lose to Texas today.
So long, losing streak.
5:39 p.m.: Well done, Pablo
Pablo López arrived at Target Field on Tuesday wearing a Johan Santana jersey. The man understands what was at stake in Game 1 of the wild card series.
Santana, in addition to being his fellow countryman from Venezuela, is the last Twins pitcher to win a postseason game. Santana did so in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS against the Yankees.
"He likes history and nostalgia, and I think it fires him up," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said before the game. "He's a Jersey guy, too. I've got my soccer jerseys. He's got his Johan Santana jersey.
"We wear what makes us feel good. And that's what he does. We have a couple of guys like that in the clubhouse. Sonny's done that a little bit too. But the Johan selection for Pablo, it's a hell of a choice."
The Twins traded for López for games like Tuesday, and he pitched them within three innings of a Game 1 win that would end their 18-game postseason losing streak.
López went 5 2/3 innings, giving up one run on five hits on 93 pitches. In doing so, López lasted longer than any starter in the postseason under Baldelli, and his outing is the longest by a Twins starter in the postseason since Francisco Liriano went 5 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the 2010 ALDS.
Twins 3, Toronto 1, at the seventh-inning stretch.
Now, it's up to the bullpen to bring it home.
5:12 p.m.: Twins bullpen watch begins
Pablo López has pitched five innings. And that might be all for him. He's sitting on 77 pitches through five scoreless innings and is about to hit the Blue Jays order for the third time. Rocco Baldelli has pulled pitchers in the postseason in similar situations.
I'll be keeping a close eye on the Twins bullpen for the next few minutes.
5:04 p.m.: Defensive ups, downs
The Twins' defensive adjustments haven't been discussed much but were a factor on the first play of the game when Jorge Polanco fielded a George Springer's grounder and threw off the mark to first base. Springer was safe on an error. Polanco likes to use a three-quarters arm angle, which is fine at second. He has to throw more over the top from third, which he doesn't do much.
Springer reached second on a fielder's choice but was stranded there as Bo Bichette flew out to end the inning.
The defense is better with Polanco at second and Edouard Julien at DH. They are stronger elsewhere, and the Twins were fortunate of that on Tuesday.
Michael A. Taylor, living Byron Buxton's life in center field, raced over for a diving catch of Alejandro Kirk's drive in the third. Max Kepler jumped at the wall in the fourth to snatch a drive by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. And the Blue Jays saw a chance to score late in that inning go for naught as Kevin Kiermaier's tapper to third slipped under Polanco's reach with Bichette on second. Bichette raced around third and headed home. But Carlos Correa, showing no signs of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, scooted to his right to grab the ball and fired to Ryan Jeffers at home for the out. Jeffers, for some strange reason, slipped his mask back on before Bichette arrived at the plate.
4:42 p.m.: Royce Lewis, my goodness
Royce Lewis was the first Twin since Eddie Rosario in 2017 to homer in his first career postseason at-bat. But Rosario failed to homer in his second career at-bat.
Lewis did just that.
Gausman threw a 94 mph fastball over the middle of the plate in the third inning. Lewis crushed a drive to right-center that had the height of a Harmon Killebrew rocket. Home run No. 2. Take another jog around the bases, Royce.
This young man is ridiculous.
Royce Lewis 3, Toronto 0.
4:30 p.m.: López looks strong
Twins righthander Pablo López has opened with two scoreless innings. A runner reached on an error in the first and another on a two-out walk in the second, but he worked around them. He didn't throw his trusty changeup until he faced Cavan Biggio in the second. So he's saving it for the right times. Strong start.
4:15 p.m.: Lewis loses one
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said before Game 1 that Royce Lewis was well enough to be in the lineup but won't run at full speed at times in order to protect his left hamstring.
"If he hits a tapper to the third baseman, however fast he is — and he's pretty fast — we might not see the highest rate of speed from Royce," Baldelli said. "But he's good enough where he can run the bases. If he's on first base and someone hits it in the gap and he stays in a good spot, relatively under control, he can score. He can do a lot of things right now. The infield hit part of it, that might be one part of the discussion we'll have to wait and see."
Well, Rocco, Lewis won't have to run hard if he hits home runs.
Lewis, who was added to the playoff roster on Tuesday morning, hammered a 3-2 pitch from Kevin Gausman into the seats in left field for a two-run home run in his first-ever postseason at-bat. Lewis received some of the loudest cheers during pre-game introductions, and Target Field erupted when the ball landed in the seats.
Twins 2, Blue Jays 0.
Lewis tapped his chest and yelled before circling the bases. He slipped on the Twins home run vest and celebrated with teammates. His victory lap in the dugout was interrupted by an interview with ESPN. I posted on X about that.
+ Star Tribune photographer Carlos Gonzalez nailed the photo of Lewis celebrating: here it is on X.
3:35 p.m.: First pitch
Winning a division title wasn't enough to guarantee a Target Field sellout in Game 1. But as first pitch neared, there were tickets available in several sections of Target Field, according to the Twins website — and the eye.
The time of the first pitch (3:38 p.m.) on a Tuesday certainly didn't help the cause. And that darn 18-game losing streak in the playoffs likely played a factor as well.
There are empty rows in the upper deck and open sports in several sections, but many fans are still pouring into the stadium as of this writing. The game won't be a sellout.
3:06 p.m.: Pregame
Who's ready for some postseason baseball? Twins fans should be as this ridiculous 18-game postseason losing streak needs to come to an end. There are Twins fans who are about to legally turn into adults who have not been around for a playoff win by the local nine.
And that streak will end — says me. Read my wild-card series prediction here.
We actually have a confluence of storylines in this first-round matchup. While the Twins have lost 18 straight postseason games, the Blue Jays have lost five straight, having last won in Game 4 of the 2016 ALCS to Cleveland. But several Blue Jays players are still sore after being swept in the AL wild card series last year by the Mariners.
There's another narrative that can be rewritten this week. The Wolves, Wild, Vikings and Lynx all have lost in the first round of the playoffs in a calendar year. A Twins triumph would avoid a Minnesota sweep, a sweep no one wants to see. So a monkey is getting off of someone's back this week!
Here's a tip for watching today's game, and all playoff games: Managers go nuts. They will activate the bullpen at the first sign of trouble, pinch hit off those pitching changes and empty their dugout too.
Rocco could use his whole bench in both these games.
As expected, Royce Lewis is on the postseason roster and is in the lineup as the designated hitter. Rocco indicated earlier today that Lewis might take it easy on the basepaths rather than risk reinjuring his left hamstring.
But the return of the charismatic Lewis is a significant development for the Twins.
"Royce is the spark plug of this team," infielder Kyle Farmer said. "AL Rookie of the Month in September with six home runs. That shows how well our September went with him in the lineup. He kind of carried the offense."
Enjoy the game. I'll check in often here with observations.
. . .
Get our Twins playoff coverage delivered to your inbox for free,