TORONTO — The three-run homer launched by Teoscar Hernandez in the fourth inning provided the Blue Jays with enough runs to defeat the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, and the blast pushed him past Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the team lead in RBI.
The 6-2 victory also restored the Blue Jays (83-65) to the second wild-card spot in the American League by a half-game over the New York Yankees.
The Yankees (83-66) were thumped 11-3 at home by Cleveland. The Boston Red Sox (85-65) held on to the top wild-card spot with a 9-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
Hernandez has 106 RBI, two more than Guerrero, who has an outside chance at the AL triple crown. He's first in batting average (.318) and homers (46), and now fourth in RBI, eight behind Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
"If he has a chance for the triple crown, I'll ask Charlie to sit me," joked Hernandez, who has 20 RBI in September.
The 28-year-old Hernandez credits work on his mental game as the reason for his productive and consistent season. He's not only been reliable at the plate but also in the outfield.
"He's been the best hitter on a lot of teams," Blue Jays starter Steven Matz said of Hernandez. "He's easy to overlook with how good this lineup is. He's been amazing."
Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak, a seven-time Olympic medallist, was among 14,722 at the Rogers Centre. She threw out the ceremonial first pitch and tossed a strike.
The Twins appeared headed for a ninth straight win in Toronto dating back Aug. 17, 2017. They led 2-0 after the first inning on a two-run homer to right field by former Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, who also belted a solo shot in Minnesota's series-opening win Friday.
But Matz settled down after Donaldson's homer Saturday to retire 16 of the next 17 Twins.
Matz has benefitted from the highest average of run support in Major League Baseball this season at 8.07 a game. He's won his last four decisions. His 13th win matched Hyun Jin Ryu for the team lead.
And while Ryu has struggled in his last two starts, Matz has stepped up big time.
"To be in a hole like that, you just want to make good pitches and put up zeroes," Matz said.
"I just wanted to keep it close and wait for the bats to come alive."
The bats perked up in the fourth. Minnesota rookie starter Bailey Ober (2-3) took a no-hitter into the inning. The home side got to Ober the second time through the Blue Jays' order.
Marcus Semien led off the fourth with a solo shot to left field to become only the fifth second baseman in MLB history to hit 40 or more homers in a season.
Guerrero then walked, and Bo Bichette singled to centre. Hernandez lifted a first-pitch slider high into the sky that barely cleared the left-field fence for his 28th homer and a two-run advantage.
"I knew I hit it good, but just a little high," he said.
Toronto padded its lead in the seventh when Twins reliever Jovani Moran loaded the bases with walks to Alejandro Kirk, George Springer and Guerrero. Kyle Barraclough replaced Moran and was greeted with a two-run single to left from Bichette.
A two-out walk to Donaldson followed by a single to centre from Miguel Sano ended Matz's day after 96 pitches and five and two-thirds innings of work.
The lefty struck out five, walked two and yielded only three hits.
Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards finished off the sixth for Matz. Tim Mayza generated a one-two-three seventh inning and struck out Nick Gordon to begin the eighth.
Righty Adam Cimber finished off the eighth, aided by a brilliant play from Bichette. He went deep in the hole to his right to throw out Donaldson.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 18, 2021.
Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press