MINNEAPOLIS (AP) After celebrating on the field and before any bottles were popped in the clubhouse, Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had a message for his team: congratulations, enjoy it - but there's more to be done.
The Twins clinched the AL Central title Friday night with an 8-6 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
Alex Kirilloff homered and drove in three runs, and Minnesota held on late to win the division crown for the third time in five seasons under Baldelli.
“We've got a lot of work to do,” Baldelli said. "But tonight, we have fun. Tomorrow, we work again.”
Pablo López (11-8) pitched six innings for the Twins, allowing three runs and five hits with seven strikeouts. Jhoan Duran gave up a run in the ninth but retired Brandon Drury on a grounder with the bases loaded to secure his 27th save.
“We came into today controlling our own destiny,” López said. “We knew we didn’t need to watch the scoreboard for anyone to lose. We knew that we needed to win the ballgame. That’s exactly what we did. Even when I wasn’t at my best, the offense picked me right up.”
After the Twins squandered an early 3-0 lead, Kirilloff’s 10th homer snapped a 3-all tie in the sixth and Minnesota won for the sixth time in eight games. Kirilloff became the 12th Twins player with double-digit home runs this season, setting a club record.
With lines from a recent college football game played at Target Field still visible, the crowd was eager to celebrate another extended fall for the Twins. It’s their 15th trip to the postseason since the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Twins.
“It means a lot,” said injured shortstop Carlos Correa, who's expected to be ready for the postseason. “The first one here in Minnesota, it’s really special. When you come to a new team, these are the goals that you set out to accomplish and this is just one of them.”
Of course, the playoffs haven’t been kind to Minnesota. The Twins have lost 18 straight postseason games - 13 of them to the New York Yankees.
Minnesota hasn’t won a playoff game since 2004, taking the first game of the Division Series 2-0 in New York with Johan Santana on the mound. Under Baldelli, the Twins were swept in two games by the Houston Astros in a 2020 first-round series and swept in three games by the Yankees in the 2019 Division Series.
The drought isn't lost on these Twins. Kyle Farmer promised a playoff win when talking postgame in an interview played over the stadium loudspeakers.
“Yeah, sure, why not?" Farmer said. "If you don’t believe it, don’t play.”
But this team believes it's different, in part because of the pitching and the depth it's developed.
Minnesota added on with a four-run seventh, highlighted by RBI doubles from Farmer and Jorge Polanco.
“We did a lot of different things to build this club and the team really is gelling,” Baldelli said, soaked in beer and bubbly and watching his team celebrate. “If you just look behind you, you can see some gelling going on. That’s what you want to see.”
Davis Daniel (0-1) took the loss as the bulk pitcher behind opener José Suarez. Daniel was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake earlier in the day and gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings in his second career major league appearance.
Los Angeles has lost eight of nine, limping to the finish of another disappointing season with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on the injured list. Logan O’Hoppe hit a two-run shot in the eighth for his 12th home run of the season.
“I want my guys to see that,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said about seeing the Twins celebrate their division title. “I really do. That is where we want to be. Absolutely. We've got a good young core. And I noticed, yeah, I noticed O’Hoppe and (Zach) Neto and those guys out there looking at that.”
It’s fitting that López, the spring trade acquisition from Miami for Luis Arraez, was on the mound for the Twins’ clinching effort. He’s been a part of a starting rotation that has led the way for Minnesota this season.
López, who could potentially be the Game 1 starter in the playoffs, bounced back from giving up five runs in a loss to the Chicago White Sox in his last start. His career-high 228 strikeouts are second in the AL behind Toronto’s Kevin Gausman (232) and his 3.61 ERA is 10th in the league.
Angels: Trout took swings off a tee before the game as he tries to return from a left hamate fracture before the end of the season. … LHP Aaron Loup was placed on the 15-day injured list with a left shoulder strain, ending his season with a 2-3 record and 6.10 ERA in 55 games.
Twins: INF Royce Lewis was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain. The team is hopeful Lewis, who leads the team with a .309 batting average and has 15 homers, is ready to return for the playoffs.
RHP Sonny Gray (8-7, 2.84 ERA) starts Saturday afternoon for Minnesota. Gray is second in the AL in ERA to New York’s Gerrit Cole (2.75). The Angels had not announced a starter. The team will likely use an opener, with LHP Kenny Rosenberg (1-2, 5.48) as the bulk pitcher.
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