CLEVELAND – Sonny Gray turned an emotional, distracting day for Gemini into a dominant one.
The right-hander pitched seven superb innings and Gary Sanchez Homered and drove four times to help Minnesota consolidate their lead in the AL Central by thrashing the Cleveland Guardians 11-1 on Monday night.
When they arrived in Cleveland on the Sunday night before the five-game series, the #1 seed Twins were shocked by the news that pitching coach Wes Johnson was leaving to take over at LSU.
“I’m glad for him. I really am,” said manager Rocco Baldelli before the game. “This is the best move for Wes. I love him and love everything he has done for this organization. We will all miss him.”
This decision was felt throughout the Minnesota club, but especially among the team’s pitchers.
Gray, acquired in March from Cincinnati, became close to Johnson and said he didn’t want him to leave.
“It’s tough,” said the right-hander, who only allowed three singles on Monday night. “It’s someone that I’ve become very close to and I think if you know me at all, letting people in and getting into relationships for that matter made me very wary.
“Today I was very angry with him. I was very happy for him today. I used all the emotions and everything I went through, I kind of used them to pour into the game.”
Sanchez hit homer with three runs in the second half Triston Mackenzie (4-6), sending the first place Twins on their way to an easy win. Nick Gordon as well as Carlos Correa added two homers for Minnesota, now three games in Cleveland.
Last week, the Guardians briefly led the division after winning two of their three games in Minneapolis, but lost five in a row. These rivals will play a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday and meet eight times in 10 days before not seeing each other again until September.
“It was very nice to leave with the first one,” Gray said. “We have four more of these things in the next three days, so hopefully it will be a good three days for us.”
Gray (4-1) never allowed the Guardians to act. He turned down hits in each of the first two innings, then retired 15 of 16 before walking away. Joseph Ramirez start seventh – his first walk is allowed in 22 innings.
“He’s really good,” said Guardians manager Terry Francona. “Now that he starts to lengthen where he is not on the serve count, he can go serve. He changes speed. He finds. He is good. He’s really good.”
Gray didn’t get a decision against the Guardians last week. This time he changed his game plan.
“They attacked the guys, approached the guys,” he said. “In my last game, I may have tried to hit those guys too hard. They have good bat-to-ball skills across the line-up and it’s not a team where you just come in and score 10.”
McKenzie has been hurt leaving pitches in the strike zone — the right-hander gave up 16 homers in 80 1/3 innings, including three homers in 4 1/3 innings last week against the Twins.
“Home runs are part of the game,” McKenzie said. “I feel like they were part of the game. I think it’s more of just looking for a way to limit the number of runs I’m giving up beforehand.”
McKenzie hit Alex Kiriloff with one out and turned down a double Gio Urshela before Sanchez pulled a 1-0 pitch into the left field stands for his ninth homer.
The Twins added two more runs in fourth on Urshela’s RBI double and Sanchez’s scoring single.
Gordon extended Minnesota’s lead to 7-0 in the sixth with his third homer, and eighth Correa made him 9-0 in the seventh.
“We kept adding,” Gray said. “That’s what good teams do.”
The Guardians have another new boss.
The search for a minority investor by owner Paul Dolan ended with the team announcing that billionaire businessman David Blitzer had agreed to acquire a 25% stake in the franchise. Blitzer partially owns the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils. He is expected to eventually take a majority stake in Cleveland.
Manager Terry Francona met with Blitzer and said that he “seemed to be a very nice guy”.
“Personally, I’m happy for Paul,” Francona said. “It seems like now he has someone who can help him, which is great.”
Gemini: 2B Jorge Polanco (stiffness in the lower back) may not show until the end of this week due to some weekend soreness. He did the swing before the game on Monday.
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Guardians: S Austin Hedges stayed out of the squad. Francona said the 29-year-old had “a little injury” but did not provide any details about the injury.