CHICAGO – Jose Berrios is a stay-at-home kind of guy. He used the Twins’ final road game of the 2020 regular season to try to keep it that way.
Berrios shut out the Cubs for six innings, Max Kepler hit his 100th career home run but first in almost four weeks, and Josh Donaldson contributed two hits and the game’s biggest defensive play. It added up to a 4-0 victory at Wrigley Field, a win that moves the Twins back into a home-field-advantage spot in the AL playoff seeding.
“We were talking about it with [righthander Michael] Pineda yesterday after the game. He said, ‘Yeah, we’re celebrating and we [clinched], but we want to start that first series at home,’ ” Berrios said after lowering his September ERA to a mere 2.05. “That’s what I brought in my mind out there — just keep doing my thing.”
They will need to do more of it this week, but Sunday’s victory — against NL Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish — was a notable one. The Yankees’ 10-game winning streak ended with a 10-2 loss in Boston on Sunday, and the Twins took advantage, moving one game ahead of New York in the battle for the best record among second-place teams, which comes with the right to host the entire best-of-three first-round series next week.
They also moved within two games of the first-place White Sox, though catching and passing them will be a challenge with only five games remaining, especially since Chicago holds the tiebreaker by virtue of a better record against AL Central teams.
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Of course, if Berrios (6-4, and 4-0 against NL teams) pitches the way he did Sunday — the way the entire staff did here, having limited the first-place Cubs to just runs in 27 innings — it may not matter where the games are.
“I turned the page” after an inconsistent August, Berrios said. “It’s September. New month, new opportunity. Obviously I know I have great ability, great talent. The only thing is, I have to execute better. That’s what I did.”
The Cubs put only three runners into scoring position against Berrios, and the two-time All-Star squelched each threat. When a pair of singles in the third inning wound up putting runners on second and third with only one out, Berrios struck out Kris Bryant on a curveball that dived toward the dirt, then got Cameron Maybin to ground to short.
An inning later, Willson Contreras’ leadoff double was neutralized by Donaldson’s smart play. Contreras moved to third on Jason Heyward’s groundout, and he tried to score when Javy Baez, Berrios’ brother-in-law, hit a sharp grounder to the Twins third baseman. Donaldson made a strong and accurate throw home on the run, and Mitch Garver tagged Contreras out.
“Josh did a great job just staying calm, knowing that if he picked it up and made a good throw home, we would have him,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Getting Kepler hitting again matters, too. Only 3-for-23 since returning from a groin injury a week ago, Kepler had three hits Sunday alone. He singled and scored in the first inning; drove in Jake Cave, who had tripled, with a groundout in the third; and doubled in the ninth. And in the seventh, he broke open the game by pummeling a first-pitch fastball from Darvish onto the tarp covering the right field bleachers, his first home run since Aug. 26.
“Tonight I felt clarity in my mind, the feeling I really missed,” Kepler said of career home run No. 100. “Big milestone for me. I never thought a kid from Germany would reach that, but here we are. Super thankful for it.”