The Twins needed a clutch moment facing the Blue Jays’ best scoring opportunity of the day in the top of the fifth inning. The fans at Target Field helped deliver that moment.
Bo Bichette, the American League’s two-time hits leader, stood at the plate with runners on second and third and two outs with the Blue Jays trailing 2-0. Sonny Gray, at 85 pitches, was nearing the end of the line. But Gray turned quickly and fired a strike to Carlos Correa at second, who was behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. by the bag. Correa slapped the tag on Guerrero, who pleaded his case and brought on a challenge, but to no avail. He was out, and the Twins escaped without a run scored.
The play proved crucial for Minnesota, which completed its sweep of the Blue Jays in the wild-card series, winning the game 2-0.
“I gave the sign to the catcher, obviously because he has the pitch com, he was calling the pitches and he gave Sonny and Sonny nodded at me and it was go time,” Correa said. “I tried to be quiet going to second base so they wouldn’t hear me and then the timing play worked out perfect.”
SONNY GRAY PICKS OFF VLADDY JR. ????
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 4, 2023
MORE: Blue Jays manager John Schneider explains decision to pull Jose Berrios
The pickoff play might have happened in the fifth, but it started in the first. Correa pulled Gray aside and told him there were free outs to be had on the bases with the Blue Jays taking aggressive leads.
The key was that the crowd noise at Target Field made it difficult for runners to hear the call to get back to the bag.
In the fifth, with Guerrero taking his extended lead, Correa signaled to catcher Ryan Jeffers to put on the timing pickoff, a play where Gray hears the call in the pitch com and acts as if he is going to deliver a pitch without looking back before turning and throwing to Correa, who snuck over to the bag.
“I’m like, alright yeah we talked about this. Cool,” Gray said upon hearing the play call. “So now I’m just trying to go through my process, all my normal ticks, stuff that I do, whatever. And then I get on the mound and then I’m waiting, I’m waiting for it to unfold. I turn, and when I turn I see Carlos at the bag and I see Vladdy off the bag a decent amount so I turn, gave the ball to Carlos, Carlos catches it, makes an incredible tag, goes at it and we get him out.”
When Gray got back to the dugout, he asked who it was that called for the pickoff, only to learn it came from his shortstop.
“So for him to have the awareness earlier in the game to say hey, this is an option, this is there for us and then in a moment like that to have the awareness to relay it from the shortstop to the dugout and the dugout to relay it to the pitch comms, for me it was just about executing the play,” Gray said. “But for him to have that awareness is what makes him special.”
MORE: MLB postseason schedule
Twins players and coaches have raved since the series-opening win about the impact the raucous crowd had on the game. It was evident throughout the series, with Blue Jays players needing to listen closer for pitch com calls and it was apparent again with Guerrero getting picked off in a crucial moment.
Minnesota crowd is ELECTRIC ????pic.twitter.com/dJi1prqHwq
— Sporting News MLB (@sn_mlb) October 4, 2023
And Gray was quick to credit the crowd for helping the team pull off the pickoff attempt.
“100%, and that tells you right there about how a home crowd or home field advantage or whatever can come into your favor,” Gray said. “The crowd was incredible, they were incredible yesterday, they were incredible today from the moment I stepped on the mound an hour before the game to the moment — they’re probably still out there, honestly. The crowd, really, really, really helped us win that game today.”