TORONTO — After throwing 781 2/3 innings over six seasons with the Minnesota Twins, starting pitcher José Berríos faced his former team, this time wearing a Blue Jays uniform.
He laughed and gave hugs to ex-teammates over the weekend, but admitted it felt "weird" and "different" to pitch against Minnesota. Once he stepped on the mound in Sunday's 5-3 win, though, those strange feelings transitioned into joy.
"I feel like I was playing back in Puerto Rico in my backyard with a lot of friends I've known [since] a long time ago," Berríos said. "So I enjoyed this day a lot."
Of course it's even more fun to pitch with an early lead, and Toronto's given its pitchers plenty of those during a 15-3 month of September. In the first inning, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. drove in his 105th RBI of the season with a 115.9-mph single that practically took the glove off Twins' shortstop Nick Gordon.
The next batter, Bo Bichette, sat on a breaking ball and drove it 412 feet to right-center field for a two-run homer. With his 26th longball of the year, Bichette tied Tony Batista (1999) for the most single-season home runs by a shortstop in franchise history.
Toronto gave Berríos a five-run lead, which help the right-hander fight through the challenge of facing a lineup that knows him well.
The 27-year-old tossed 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits, walking one batter and striking out six—he's allowed three runs or less in seven of 10 starts since joining the Jays, good for a 3.39 ERA.
The Twins tagged him for two runs in the fourth, but Berríos struck out the side to escape the jam, placing a perfect curveball on the outside corner to sit down Jake Cave for the third out. He nearly closed out the seventh, too, until a Ben Rortvedt solo home run ended his day.
"Since José got here, he's been helping us a lot," Guerrero Jr. said through interpreter Hector Lebron. "He's been great for the team—pitching, [in the] clubhouse, everything.
"He's a hard worker and I know he's going to continue to help us every time he goes out there."
Marcus Semien's epic walkoff home run on September 3 was a turning point in the Blue Jays season, but the acquisition of Berríos has also coincided with Toronto's blistering stretch. The Jays are 30-17 since trading for the two-time All-Star.
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo praised Berríos and the depth of his starting rotation, which is especially important now that Hyun Jin Ryu is on the injured list with neck tightness.
"He joined the club," Montoyo said of Berríos' consistency. "Because [Robbie] Ray's been awesome, [Steven] Matz' has been awesome, [Alek] Manoah's been awesome.
"He's another guy that, when he pitches, he gives us a chance to win. And you can't ask for anything better than that."
After taking two of three from the Twins this weekend, the Blue Jays haven't lost a series since August 22 and move a game-and-a-half up on the Yankees for the second AL wild-card spot.
Following the win, Guerrero Jr. said the club's confidence is at "100 percent."
"We're trusting each other very much," he said. "We are sticking together since we know where we are right now in terms of the race for the wild card. So every game I feel like we're more together."