Bring on the Yankees; Twins ready to host nemesis after losing finale
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins will make yet another October trip to New York. This time, they'll first meet their October nemesis at Target Field.
Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind added two more home runs to Toronto's major league-leading total, lifting the Toronto Blue Jays to a 2-1 victory Sunday in the regular-season finale over the playoff-bound Twins, who learned minutes later their opening-round opponent is the Yankees.
Minnesota is 2-9 against New York in the postseason, losing the division series in 2003, 2004 and 2009. The series begins Wednesday night at Target Field with a 7:37 p.m. start. The teams will meet again Thursday at 5:07 in Minneapolis before moving to New York for Game 3 on Saturday night at 7:37.
"We know what we've got ahead of us," center fielder Denard Span said. "I know you guys are going to make a big deal about the past and how we played against those guys, but we're just going to strap 'em up and go out there and try to do what we've done all year."
The Twins lose eight of their last 10 games, not the way they wanted to enter the postseason, but at least healthier than when they clinched the AL Central on Sept. 21. Only first baseman Justin Morneau is missing, his post-concussion recovery still not far enough along to include him. Despite losing All-Star closer Joe Nathan in spring training and Morneau for the last half of the season, Minnesota went 94-68 and won the division for the sixth time in the last nine years.
"We gave ourselves a chance, putting ourselves in this position, and we know what we have in our clubhouse," catcher Joe Mauer said. "We're capable of going the whole way."
This was the last game for Toronto manager Cito Gaston, who accepted a $2,500 donation from the Twins on his behalf to the Blue Jays' charity fund. Two of his former players who are also former Twins, Paul Molitor and Jack Morris, joined Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and Minnesota second baseman Orlando Hudson, himself a former Blue Jays player, at home plate to honor Gaston.
"It was nice to see him win and ride off into the sunset," Lind said.
Gaston finished 211-201 in his second stint with the Blue Jays -- no World Series titles, but a competitive stint in arguably baseball's toughest division. He had a 913-851 regular-season record in 12 seasons, plus 18-16 in postseason play.
Toronto finished with eight wins in its last 10 games to reach 85-77.
"I really think the theme they came up with for this year -- heart and hustle -- has really been appropriate," Gaston said. "They never quit. We lost some tough ones this year."
Encarnacion finished with 21 homers this season, seven against the Twins and five in this four-game series. The Blue Jays went deep 10 times this weekend at Target Field, so far one of the hardest ballparks to hit one out of.
The Blue Jays went deep 257 times this season, matching the 1996 Baltimore Orioles for the third-most in history. The 1997 Seattle Mariners have the record, with 264 homers.
Nick Blackburn (10-12), expected to be the starter if there's a Game 4 next week, gave the Twins seven innings and six strikeouts. He allowed only three hits and one walk, rebounding from a rough start last week.
Blue Jays starter Marc Rzepczynski (4-4) was a little bit better, allowing only one unearned run in seven innings while striking out six. The Twins trotted out THE lineup, as Gardenhire put it before the game, his batting order for the playoffs. Most of the regulars were gone by the middle innings, including as a precaution right fielder Jason Kubel, who fouled a ball off his foot.
Afterward, some players downplayed the significance of the rematch with the Yankees, but Blackburn expressed a bring-it-on attitude.
"I think at first there was a little bit of shock for us to be playing the Yankees, you know, but they're a beatable team," Blackburn said, recalling last year's series. "We can go out there and beat 'em, and there's no reason we shouldn't."
NOTES: The Twins announced another sellout, 79 out of 81 dates, and finished with 3,223,640 fans for their first season at Target Field, up from 2,416,237 in 82 dates during their final Metrodome season. ... The Twins unveiled a statue of late owner Carl Pohlad and his wife Eloise on the plaza outside the ballpark before the game. Former Twins and Blue Jays 3B Corey Koskie performed the ceremonial flag raising. ... Mauer doubled and finished with a career-high 43, the third-most in history by a catcher, but he had only two after Aug. 31. Ivan Rodriguez has the record with 47 in 1996. ... The Jays were all about power this season, and not just at the plate: Their pitchers struck out 1,184 batters, matching the 2008 club record. Toronto was second in the league in strikeouts entering the game.