MINNEAPOLIS -- Those alarms over Jose Berrios' second-half slump, the anxiety over an All-Star whose expiration date had seemingly come and gone?
If Berrios was ever broken, he certainly seemed fixed on Tuesday. The right-hander faced down the third-highest-scoring offense in the National League, and allowed almost nothing. Berrios retired the first 13 Nationals he faced, departed after giving up just two hits in seven shutout innings, and reclaimed the mantle of staff ace by delivering a 5-0 interleague victory over Washington.
Mitch Garver made it a two-man show by crushing his 30th home run of the season into the Nationals' bullpen in the seventh inning, a two-run blast that broke up a scoreless game and extended his weekend hot streak. Garver has hit the Twins' last four home runs, dating back to Saturday, and in doing so, gave the Twins three 30-home run hitters for the fourth time in their history and first since 1987.
But Garver has been a steady producer all season, something Berrios, despite earning his second All-Star berth in July, can't say. Berrios' 8.07 ERA in August and September had raised blood pressures throughout the Twin Cities, and raised speculation that he might not be the Game 1 starter in the postseason.
He still has three starts remaining, but Berrios probably calmed some of the rising panic by dominating a playoff contender. He only got four swing-and-misses in his seven innings, but Berrios also induced weak contact all night. His fastball averaged nearly 94 mph, and his curveball produced several swings at pitches below the strike zone.
Berrios needed only 94 pitches to speed through seven innings, never facing more than four batters in an inning, and only once -- due to his own throwing error on a pickoff throw -- did he allow a National to reach second base.
Yet the fourth-year Twin was nearly outpitched by his former teammate -- surely you remember Anibal Sanchez's three-week tenure as a spring-training invitee in Fort Myers 18 months ago, right? Sanchez, let go when the Twins signed Lance Lynn instead, revived his career in Washington and seemed Berrios' equal for six innings, not allowing a hit until a Willians Astudillo liner to right field in the fifth inning.
Sanchez stranded Luis Arraez on second after a one-out double in the sixth, but then tired in the seventh and made a couple of costly mistakes. Eddie Rosario led off with a double to center, and up came Garver, who homered twice Saturday and once on Sunday. He let a first-pitch cutter go by for a strike, but pounced on an 85-mph slider, driving it into the bullpens in center.
In doing so, Garver joined Max Kepler (36) and Nelson Cruz (35) with 30 or more homers, joining the 1987 Twins (Tom Brunsnsky, Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek), the 1964 team (Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Box Allison) and the 1963 Twins (Killebrew, Allison and Jimmie Hall) as the franchise's only clubs with three such sluggers.
The Twins added three more runs off the Nationals' bullpen in the eighth. Tanner Rainey started the trouble by hitting Jonathan Schoop with a pitch, and Arraez followed with a single. Jorge Polanco doubled both of them home, then scored later in the inning on Ehire Adrianza's sacrifice fly.
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