The Rangers and Rays kicked things off Tuesday, with the Rangers getting the win on the road and now looking for a series victory on Wednesday.
Then the Twins exorcised their postseason demons with a 3-1 win over the Blue Jays, marking their first playoff victory since 2004.
No. 6 Blue Jays at No. 3 Twins, Game 1: Twins 3, Blue Jays 1
After winning the AL Central, the Twins are now one win away from advancing to an ALDS matchup against the Houston Astros. Just as important, they ended their 18-game playoff losing streak Tuesday with their first postseason victory since 2004.
Behind a strong start from Pablo López and a big day at the plate from rookie shortstop Royce Lewis, the Twins secured a 3-1 win over the Jays in Game 1 of their wild-card series. Lopez pitched 5 2/3 one-run innings, and the Twins’ bullpen shut out the Blue Jays from there.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. threatened to spark a Toronto rally with a leadoff double in the eighth. But Griffin Jax struck out Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio before forcing an Alejandro Kirk groundout to strand Guerrero and end the threat.
Pablo López cruised through five innings before encountering trouble in the sixth. With the Twins leading 3-0, he walked Alejandro Kirk to put runners on first and second with two outs after Bo Bichette reached base with a one-out single.
With Kevin Kiermaier at the plate, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli visited the mound with a decision to make. He opted to leave Lopez in. Kiermaier responded with a one-run single that scored Bichette from second base. That was the end of López's day.
Reliever Louis Varland took over on the mound to face Matt Chapman in a pivotal at-bat with the go-ahead run at the plate. Chapman sent an 0-1 fastball to deep center field, and Michael Taylor was there to make the play and preserve the 3-1 lead for Minnesota
López was great in his second career postseason start and his first since making his first career All-Star game in July. But the day belonged to Lewis. The rookie got the scoring started in the first inning, with a two-run blast in his first career postseason at-bat. He followed that with a solo shot in the third to extend Minnesota’ lead to 3-0. In doing so, he became the third player in MLB history to hit a home run in each of his first two playoff at-bats. Talk about a postseason debut.
José Berríos (11-12, 3.65 ERA) will start for the Jays against his former team Wednesday in Game 2. He’ll oppose the Twins' Sonny Gray (8-8, 2.79 ERA). The game will start at 4:38 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.
With a win, the Twins will advance to face the Astros in the ALDS.
No. 5 Rangers at No. 4 Rays, Game 1: Rangers 4, Rays 0
The Rangers are one game away from advancing to the American League Division Series vs. Baltimore after defeating the Rays 4-0 at Tropicana Field. Jordan Montgomery did much of the heavy lifting Tuesday, allowing six hits and striking out five through seven scoreless innings.
Josh Jung got the scoring started with a second-inning sacrifice fly to right field to bring in Nathaniel Lowe, and Corey Seager was involved in the Rangers' final three runs, scoring on a wild pitch in the fifth and forcing the issue on a single that brought in two more runs in the sixth via a Jose Siri throwing error on the play.
The Rays had four errors Tuesday — the most in a postseason game in franchise history — and have scored only one run in their past three playoff games. Even though the Rangers left 13 men on base in Game 1, Tampa Bay struggled with routine plays, which contributed to its sixth consecutive postseason loss. The Rays were swept by the Cleveland Guardians in last year's wild-card opener and lost the final three games of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox in 2021.
Entering with serious concerns about the bullpen, the Rangers’ biggest moment was always going to revolve around when starter Jordan Montgomery — by far their most reliable pitcher down the stretch — would have to exit. Well, that juncture didn’t come until the bottom of the eighth, when manager Bruce Bochy chose to give Aroldis Chapman a clean inning with a 4-0 lead.
Montgomery, several times bumped out of postseason starting gigs in his previous tenures with the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals, came up huge for Texas on Tuesday. The big lefty fired seven innings on 93 pitches, moving swiftly through the Rays' lineup and contributing an excellent, all-out effort on defense to defuse one attempted rally.
Rangers rookie Evan Carter, a month past his 21st birthday, keeps asserting himself as a star. Displaying mature plate discipline beyond his years, the power-speed threat slotted into the lineup in the No. 9 hole Tuesday but functioned as a second leadoff hitter, reaching base all four times he came to bat and blitzing home on a Corey Seager single that could've created hesitation but turned into a fielding debacle for the Rays, increasing Texas' lead to 4-0.
The Rangers will send Nathan Eovaldi (9-8, 4.76 ERA) to the mound against Rays starter Zach Eflin (16-8, 3.50 ERA) in Game 2. The teams will once again kick off the playoff action, with first pitch scheduled for 3:08 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on ABC.
With a win Wednesday, the Rangers can close out the series and advance to face the Orioles in the ALDS.