Ohtani shows his stuff; Twins eliminated from AL Central race

An announced total of 24,896 fans came to Target Field on a chilly and drizzly fall Friday evening, and probably a majority of those were not there to witness the 73-78 Twins formally eliminate themselves from the American League Central race.

There were plenty clad in the Angels' red and white jerseys and hats, No. 17 stitched across several. This was (unofficially) Shohei Ohtani Day in Minnesota, after all.

The Japanese star has become major league baseball's biggest name, a rare talent who can hit, pitch and field, though he does the latter sparingly. The planets aligned and the gods smiled down upon the Twin Cities, with Ohtani's schedule lining up to start against the Twins, giving the crowd the coveted chance to see the phenom eclipse 200 strikeouts in a season for the first time while also hitting an RBI single in the seventh inning as the designated hitter.

Those efforts helped the Angels beat the Twins 4-2. That, combined with a Guardians victory over the Rangers, has made it impossible for the Twins to mount an incredible comeback to win the division.

The Guardians have surged in the last month of the season, winning 16 of their past 19 games. On the flip side, the Twins have lost five consecutive games and eight of their past nine.

"You're always playing for the division until you're not. So it's not news that I enjoy hearing, obviously," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the elimination. "We're not playing our best baseball at this point. … Yeah, it stirs some emotion. Not the emotion you're looking for, but there's no way around it. It does."

There is technically still a chance the Twins could overcome a significant 9 ½-game deficit in the next 11 games to grab a wild-card spot. However slim.

MLB standings

Ohtani (14-8) held the Twins hitless through two outs in the fifth inning, when Luis Arraez singled.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the major leagues right now," Arraez said. "He can throw 100 [mph]. He can throw 90 if he wants. He can hit homers if he wants. … He's a good starting [pitcher]. He's a good hitter. He can do everything. I just tried to do my job there, and finally I got my base hit to left field."

This was actually not Ohtani's sharpest outing, though. He loaded the bases in the first with two walks and a hit by pitch, letting a run score despite Jake Cave grounding into a double play. He gave up a second run in the sixth on a Cave single and loaded the bases for a second time before departing.

In all, he allowed three hits with six walks — tying a career high — and seven strikeouts.

There was at least one large chunk of fans at Target Field who braved the weather to see a different pitcher: Twins starter Louie Varland.

The North St. Paul High School grad, who also played collegiately at Concordia and ascended to the Saints this season, pitched for the first time in front of a home-state crowd at the MLB level. He said he set aside 41 tickets for family and friends, but many more bought their own for a good 200 to 300 Varland faithful in the stands.

BOXSCORE: Angels 4, Twins 2

The rookie (0-2) lasted 5⅔ innings, giving up seven hits and three runs. Taylor Ward drove two leadoff homers off Varland, one in the second and another in the sixth. Mike Trout added a RBI single in between.

But no run could dampen the occasion for Varland, who has been to a couple of Twins games every year since 2005, including every TwinsFest and helping to unpack the visiting team's bags when his former pitching coach was the visiting clubhouse manager. So parking in the special players' parking lot was a thrill, even if he still ended up lost and had to ask security how to navigate to the Twins' clubhouse.

"It was nerve-racking, still very exciting," Varland said. "After everything's done with, it was a lot of fun. It was unreal."