It started poorly and ended just as bad for the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Looking to extend their consecutive series win streak to three against a Twins team they split the first two games with, the Jays and Mother Nature gifted the visitors a couple of first-inning runs in a three-run first that Toronto never recovered from on their way to an 8-6 loss.
It was just the Jays’ second loss in their past 11 games and it wasted a four-homer afternoon — all of them solo shots — until Santiago Espinal’s three-run shot in the ninth that suddenly, and temporarily, put this one up for grabs again.
Jays’ starter Kevin Gausman suffered his shortest outing as a Blue Jay and his least effective, falling to 5-4 on the season.
Gausman was unlucky right out of the gate as first Teoscar Hernandez lost a routine, though sky-high pop fly in a low cloudy sky by Jorge Polanco for a two-base error that cashed in the first run of the game.
In the same inning, Jose Miranda popped one down the same first-base line but in foul territory just behind the bag. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. never found it allowing the ball to drop and giving Mirando another life.
Miranda promptly banged out a single, scoring Polanco with the second run.
Both Hernandez and Guerrero had donned sunglasses when they came out for the second inning but the damage had already been done.
The combination of those low, white, fluffy clouds and just enough sunlight peeking through made picking up a ball in that first inning next to impossible.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating,” Gausman said afterwards. “These guys do everything they can before the game. They take fly balls, they put a lot of work in defensively, but sometimes you just can’t see the ball. It’s unfortunate and kind of started off the game on a bad note, but what are you going to do?”
That wasn’t the extent of Gausman’s issues for the day.
He was also dealing with a Twins team that somehow managed to lay off the majority of his split fastball offerings. The splitter is Gausman’s swing-and miss pitch and, when the opposition doesn’t offer at it, things become much more difficult for the Jays’ big off-season acquisition.
Gausman revealed that he and catcher Danny Jansen made an adjustment in the third inning, basically going away from the splitter altogether and focusing more on staying down in the zone. But the Jays were down 5-1 at that point and, as he said: “The damage had been done.”
Jays manager Charlie Montoyo made a point of saying he wasn’t defending his players when he pointed out that Sunday was not the first time in the history of the sport that a player allowed a catchable fly ball to drop because of a difficult sky, but one could make the argument that after Hernandez’s initial adventure trying to pick up a high fly ball in those circumstances, sunglasses might have prevented the second.
It’s not even uncommon to see an outfielder flip sunglasses down from the resting spot on his head when a sky becomes difficult as it did, but that would require having them with you in the first place.
The Twins got one more run in the first inning before Hernandez would gun down Miranda trying to go first to third on Gilberto Celestino’s single.
The 3-0 hole kept the Jays chasing the remainder of the afternoon.
George Springer hit his seventh Jays leadoff homer (a Jays record) to get his team back within two, but by the time the other homers played out for Toronto, the Twins had already sufficiently padded their lead to withstand the comeback.
Solo homers by red-hot Alejandro Kirk in the fourth — his fourth of the homestand — and another by Matt Chapman in the seventh, barely put a dent in the Twins lead which by then was still 6-3.
The Jay did make things interesting in the ninth when Espinal followed a Kirk walk and a Chapman single with his fourth homer of the year to the get the Jays within two at 8-6.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., singled after that to bring the tying run to the plate with just one out.
A force at second and a wild throw trying to get Jansen at first to end the game with a double play moved Jansen to second, now with two out.
A pitching change brought Jovani Moran into the game and he promptly gave up a bloop single to Springer to bring the potential winning run to the plate in the form of Bo Bichette.
But Moran got Bichette to ground out to third to end the game.
The Jays now head out for a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City against the 17-35 Royals, starting Monday night.