MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Since clinching the AL Central title, the Minnesota Twins have focused on getting several key starters healthy for the postseason.
At least for a day, reserve infielder Alexi Casilla kept Minnesota in the race for the best record in the league, too.
Casilla hit a two-out, two-run single in the ninth inning Saturday and the AL Central champion Twins rallied past the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4.
The win left Minnesota, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay tied with an AL-leading 94 victories. The Twins have only one game left, Tampa Bay plays twice and the Yankees have three left in the race for best record and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“I was battling until I got the right pitch to hit, and finally I hit it right back up the middle,” Casilla said. “Those situations where the pressure is up, I just kind of laugh a little bit to take the pressure off me.”
Delmon Young led off the Minnesota ninth with a double against closer Kevin Gregg (2-6). Gregg retired pinch-hitter Joe Mauer on a fly ball and Danny Valencia on a foul out before walking Jason Kubel and Jose Morales.
With the bases loaded, Casilla singled up the middle on a full-count pitch, scoring pinch-runners Ben Revere and Jason Repko.
“You throw pitches, you get people out,” Gregg said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I thought I made a good pitch to Delmon Young and that’s what he had to do with it. If he does anything else, he’s out. You have to tip your hat in that situation.
“I thought I made some good pitches going forward from there and the chips fall how they do.”
It was Gregg’s sixth blown save of the season. Matt Capps (2-0) earned the win with a scoreless ninth.
“Our bullpen was super and we had some great at-bats there at the end in that last inning,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It was really hard to see, and we had some really close pitches which worked out for us. We drew some walks and got the big hit by Alexi, which was a lot of fun.”
Casilla also had a two-run single in the fifth, starting the Twins’ comeback.
Brian Duensing, the Twins’ third starter for the first round of the playoffs, gave up four runs on five hits and four walks in five innings. He has allowed nine runs in his last two starts, covering 11 2-3 innings.
Duensing left after 89 pitches with a sore arm, but is still expected to make his postseason start.
“It was tight,” Duensing said. “I think the cold weather had a little bit to do with it. It took me a while longer to warm up before the game.”
Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion homered for the third straight game as the Blue Jays’ built a 4-1 advantage they could not hold.
The top homer-hitting team in baseball, Toronto has connected for eight shots in the first three games of the series.
Considered one of the least hitter-friendly parks in the majors, the Blue Jays have made Target Field look small in their only appearance in the new stadium. Encarnacion’s home run was a line drive estimated at 422 feet and left the park so quickly that Minnesota center fielder Denard Span only took a few steps before watching it leave the yard.
The Blue Jays have hit 23 home runs in eight games against Minnesota this season and Encarnacion has been responsible for much of the damage. In seven games against the Twins this season, Encarnacion has hit .500 with six home runs and 13 RBIs.
Encarnacion became the seventh Toronto player to reach 20 home runs this season.
Staked to an early lead, Shaun Marcum settled in against a Minnesota offense without Mauer, who didn’t start after playing in two straight games. Mauer has been dealing with a sore left knee.
Marcum retired 10 straight hitters at one point, but Minnesota had three straight hits to open the fifth, capped by Casilla’s two-run single.
“Like I said in spring training, that was one of my main goals this year to get through the season healthy,” said Marcum, who missed the 2009 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. “Everything else pretty much took care of itself. We’ve done some good things this year as a staff and as an offense.
“All-in-all, it’s been a pretty good year for us, but we’ve still got some things to do to get where we want to be.”
Notes: With a first-inning walk, Toronto OF Jose Bautista became the seventh player in major league history to record at least 50 home runs, 100 walks and 30 doubles in the same season. He joined Luis Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth in accomplishing the feat. … Twins 1B Justin Morneau took more swings in the batting cage before Saturday’s game, but manager Ron Gardenhire announced Morneau will miss at least the first round of the playoffs, confirming what Morneau had said a day earlier. … Encarnacion’s home run in the second was his seventh in 15 games since being activated from the disabled list. … Jim Thome was in the Twins’ lineup for the second straight game and again took just a planned two at-bats in an effort to keep the 40-year old healthy and sharp for the postseason.
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