Yusei Kikuchi wanted to start an important six-game stretch against American League rivals with some of his best pitching.

Unfortunately, an efficient performance still wasn't enough as Kikuchi gave up the go-ahead home run to Carlos Santana in the fifth inning as the Minnesota Twins beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 on Friday.

Kikuchi said he was disappointed to lose the first game of a three-game homestand against Minnesota before the Blue Jays travel to Baltimore to face the AL East-leading Orioles in a three-game set starting Monday.

"We know they're really good teams and we know it's an important stretch," said Kikuchi through translator Yusuke Oshima. "We wanted to win but I did my best, just disappointing results at the end of the day."

Kikuchi (2-3) pitched eight innings, allowing two runs on four hits, striking out three on just 97 pitches. Nate Pearson and Genesis Cabrera came out of Toronto's bullpen, with Pearson giving up a run.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa's home run in the third and his RBI single in the ninth was all Toronto (17-21) could muster. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., went 2 for 4 to improve his batting average to .253 after a slow start to the season.

It was the first time the two teams had met since Toronto manager John Schneider made the controversial decision to pull starting pitcher Jose Berrios after three innings for Kikuchi in the Blue Jays' 2-0 loss to Minnesota in the decisive game of last year's AL wild-card series.

Jose Miranda's RBI single in the first opened the scoring as Minnesota (23-15) won its third straight. Pinch-hitter Max Kepler added another RBI single in the ninth.

"When you win, you have fun," said Santana. "We have a great team, we’re playing good.

"We have to keep continuing to play and take it one day at a time, one game at a time. That’s why we’re playing good now."

Joe Ryan (2-2) struck out seven over seven innings, giving up one run on six hits. Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax came out of the Twins bullpen to preserve the win, with Jax earning his fifth save of the year.

Miranda gave the Twins an early lead with a one-out single that scored Carlos Correa. Kikuchi struggled to get out of the first inning without giving up more runs, eventually inducing a pop fly from Manuel Margot for a second out.

Minnesota tried a double steal with runners on first and third and Santana at the plate. Miranda ran toward second and when Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen threw to infielder Kiner-Falefa, Willi Castro sprinted home. Kiner-Falefa fired the ball back to Jansen, however, for the clean tag to end the inning.

"I was giving up some hits, but they weren't hard hits, they were bloopers and little ground balls," said Kikuchi of the first inning. "So I didn't make that big of an adjustment but second, then third time through the order, they've been pretty hot so I decided to mix up my pitches."

Kiner-Falefa's bat came into play two innings later, as he led off the third with a solo home run. His second homer of the season came off Ryan's 80.9 m.p.h. sweeper, flying 365 feet into Toronto's bullpen to tie the game 1-1.

Santana answered back for the Twins in the fifth with his fifth homer of the season. He sent a 97.4 m.p.h. four-seam fastball from Kikuchi 342 feet over the right-field fence.

Kepler, pinch hitting for Miranda, hit a dribbler to shallow right with two outs in the ninth for a 3-1 lead. That scored Correa, who had doubled off Pearson.

Kiner-Falefa pulled the Blue Jays to within a run in the bottom of the inning. His two-out single to shallow right brought home Bo Bichette from second.

SCHNEIDER LEADING OFF — Outfielders George Springer and Kevin Kiermaier were given the night off as they struggled with a virus. Left-fielder Davis Schneider was moved to the top of Toronto's batting order in place of Springer, who has struggled to start the season, hitting .206 with a .276 on-base percentage.

"Not ready to pull the plug on George," said John Schneider before the game. "I think that he's still a huge part of our team. We'll see how it goes tonight and go from there."

ON DECK — Kevin Gausman (2-3) will take the mound on Saturday afternoon as the Blue Jays continue their series with the Twins.

Simeon Woods Richardson (1-0) is scheduled to start for Minnesota.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2024.