Correa, Gordon power Twins past Royals 3-2 for series sweep

Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins salvaged some badly needed momentum, entering a last-ditch five-game series at first-place Cleveland this weekend.

Their pitching lately looks up to the task.

Carlos Correa‘s solo home run in the first inning and Nick Gordon‘s two-run shot in the second gave the Twins enough to hang on for a 3-2 victory to finish a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night and gain ground in the AL Central race.

“Our guys know what’s at stake, and our guys know what time of the year it is,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “This is what we do all this work for.”

The Twins (72-70) pulled within four games of the Guardians (76-66), who had their six-game winning streak stopped with an 8-2 loss to Chicago in the afternoon. The White Sox (74-70) are in second place, three games out.

“I’m excited because I know it’s important for us,” reliever Jhoan Duran said through a translator. “That’s the season right there.”

Trevor Megill (4-3), who threw the first of five scoreless innings by five Twins relievers, picked up the victory with a perfect fifth. Duran got his seventh save in as many attempts with a tense ninth, retiring his last three batters on a sacrifice bunt and two strikeouts after the first two men reached.

“Anybody can step up in any given moment. Nobody quite has a role, but we’re always ready whenever Rocco calls upon us,” said Michael Fulmer, who pitched a perfect eighth.

After losing nine of 11, including a three-game sweep here last weekend by division-leading Cleveland, the Twins snapped to life against the ready-for-next-year Royals. This was their second sweep of Kansas City in four weeks. Minnesota has a 12-4 advantage in the season series, with three games remaining on the road against the Royals next week.

After Michael Taylor‘s RBI single in the second inning and Salvador Perez‘s leadoff home run in the fourth off Twins starter Dylan Bundy, the Royals put only two runners on until the consecutive singles against Duran to start the ninth.

The Twins outscored the Royals 13-5 in the series and allowed a total of only 13 hits.

Correa is batting .339 in his last 31 games (39 for 115) with eight home runs, 21 RBIs and 18 walks. Gordon’s 11th career home run was his first against a left-hander, Royals starter Daniel Lynch (4-11).

“I thought he got better as he went,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Those last couple innings, we saw some stuff that we really hadn’t seen here in awhile.”

LUCKY NUMBER?

In honor of the baseball-wide celebration of the late Hall of Fame player, humanitarian and Puerto Rico native Roberto Clemente, two Royals and six Twins chose to wear his old No. 21. That included Correa, a Puerto Rican, and Perez, who was his team’s 2021 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for character and community service.

Correa and Perez, as fate would have it, both hit their 21st homers.

“You grow up in Puerto Rico learning the history of Roberto Clemente and how great he was. All the people he touched off the field is what inspired me the most and that’s the reason why I have a foundation to help others because my idol, Roberto Clemente, did it,” Correa said before the game.

BANGED-UP TWINS

Twins 1B/2B/DH Luis Arraez, who departed the game Wednesday with tightness in his hamstring, was held out of the lineup as a precaution after an MRI test revealed no damage. The AL batting leader entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning for Kyle Garlick, who had wrist pain.

The lineup remained well below full strength, with 2B Jorge Polanco (knee inflammation), CF Byron Buxton (hip strain), LF Alex Kirilloff (wrist inflammation) and RF Max Kepler (bruised leg, sore wrist) leading the list of sidelined regulars. Kepler is the only one not on the injured list.

“We need to bring guys back who can play. Bringing guys back who can play and then maybe need a day or two once they play a game, that’s not going to help us as much as we think,” Baldelli said before the game.

UP NEXT

Royals: RHP Jonathan Heasley (3-8, 5.51 ERA) takes the mound on Friday night in Boston to begin a three-game series. RHP Michael Wacha (11-1, 2.69 ERA) pitches for the Red Sox.

Twins: RHP Bailey Ober (0-2, 4.11 ERA) will come off the injured list for the series opener in Cleveland. He has made only seven starts this season because of a groin strain, with his last outing on June 1. RHP Triston McKenzie (10-11, 3.05) pitches for the Guardians. He beat the Twins last week with seven shutout innings.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.