If there was ever a metaphor for the things baseball fans miss least while the game is on hiatus during the winter, the early innings of Wednesday night’s game at Target Field between the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers laid claim to a number of them.

The first four innings took nearly two hours. The game, on the whole, featured multiple errors, two starting pitchers who weren’t sharp at all, an intentional walk to load the bases by a team down four runs and on pace to lose nearly 100 games and perhaps the longest replay challenge in league history when things were all settled.

Oh, and it was cold besides.

The announced attendance was 21,316, but one could likely chop off the first two numbers and the comma to represent how many people were left in the stands when the final out was recorded on a play scored 3U.

Between Christin Stewart’s RBI inside-the-park-triple to start the night and the crowd catching a case of the “woos” — don’t ask — at the end of it, a lot happened as the Twins grabbed an 11-4 win.

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The win guaranteed that the Twins can’t lose 90 games this year. Is that interesting? Was anything that happened on Wednesday night interesting?

I guess you’ll have to be the judge.

Jake Odorizzi took the mound for the Twins, but was lifted after three-plus innings and just 75 pitches. He wasn’t hurt; he just wasn’t particularly sharp. He was visibly annoyed that he didn’t get a call on a 3-2 fastball he threw to Jeimer Candelario that resulted in a walk and a hot shower to end his night.

But at the same time, he knew from the outset that he didn’t have it while preparing to make the start, his first in more than a week, but his second in a row against the Tigers.

“I was just a little rusty,” Odorizzi said. “It had been a while since I had been on the mound. It’s something that’s unique, especially in September with the off-days and extra guys in the rotation. I was just rusty. I didn’t have any feel for anything. I knew it early on. I said after the first inning, ‘I don’t have my control, I don’t my feel for pitching tonight. I’ll give you as much as I can as long as I can.’

Sep 26, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (12) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

“(It’s) just kind of a crappy way to end the season, especially with the way the last month and a half has gone. It had been going a lot better for me. But I’m not going to let this outing determine me. I made a lot of adjustments, saw a lot of improvement up until this last one.

“The last one I faced was these guys eight days ago, and when you face a team back-to-back it’s kind of a cat and mouse game of do you want to keep doing what was successful or do you make the adjustment beforehand. I chalk a lot of it up to being rusty. It was a lot like early this year. Stuff was a little bit off on some certain pitches. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

Sep 26, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins third baseman Willians Astudillo (64) attempts a throw to first but loses the ball in the fourth inning against Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The weather was one thing that was not on Odorizzi’s mind, however. It was chilly, but by no means Arctic — especially compared to the April weather, the righty said.

“I actually thought it felt pretty fine,” Odorizzi said. “I went out there with my jacket to warm up and once I took it off, I was surprised by how nice it was. It feels like the summertime considering what we were pitching in April. Weather wasn’t an issue. It was just shaking some rust off after a long wait on the mound. Nothing we can do about that.
“Sometimes I’d execute pitches and get shift beaten a couple times and there’s not much you can do about that. Just kind of turn around and nobody is there. Take the good from this season. I made all my starts. I stayed healthy. It was by no means a year I was proud of, but it’s a year I learned a lot from. So if I make the adjustments next year and stay healthy, I think I’ll be in for a lot better and show the fans a lot better, too.”

Odorizzi’s counterpart was Matt Boyd. The lefty recorded just 11 outs — two more than Odorizzi — but also gave up two more earned runs along the way.

The big damage done against Boyd was a pair of homers by Johnny Field — speaking of not playing over the last week — as well as a mammoth shot by Tyler Austin.

Austin’s homer smacked of irony. He hit it off a Delta advertisement on the marquee between the first and second decks of left field.

The message on the ad?

Commercials are rarely this clever, but hats off to Delta on that one.

The multi-homer game for Field was his first as a big leaguer — in fact, he has just nine MLB homers and they’ve all come in this, his rookie season — and the second one needed a little help from a replay review to grant him the final two bases.

The replay showed that the ball ricocheted out of the planters just beyond the fence in left, but the path was just similar enough to if the ball had hit the top of the fence to draw some doubt. The review didn’t take long — this time, anyhow — and Field was quickly granted a trip back to the plate complete with fireworks and Prince music.

The Twins put up crooked numbers in the first, fourth and fifth innings, but from that point on, neither team scored as the game picked up steam — a little.

The Twins bullpen did a terrific job stemming the tide against the Tigers, as the only runs scored by Detroit on the night were charged to Odorizzi.

Tyler Duffey came on with the bases loaded after Odorizzi walked Candelario, and gave up a Stewart sac fly to deep center before striking out Nicholas Castellanos and former teammate Niko Goodrum swinging.

In all, Duffey and his bullpen comrades — in order, Andrew Vasquez, Addison Reed, John Curtiss and Matt Belisle — combined for six shutout innings with seven strikeouts, one walk and just two hits allowed.

Both hits were charged to Reed, who recently became a father for the second time while the team was in Oakland.

The primary controversy in the game came when Willians Astudillo — who had a three-hit night — just missed hitting into a triple play.

In fact, the play went from a nearly guaranteed triple play, to a double play to just one out being recorded when the dust settled. Let’s see if I can explain exactly what happened.

Robbie Grossman led off the inning with a double to right field, and Austin followed with a walk. Astudillo hit a sizzling liner to second base that was speared by Dawel Lugo. Lugo flipped to second to double up Grossman, and the throw back to first would have gotten Austin if Goodrum had handled it cleanly.

But that’s where things get dicey.

Tigers shortstop Ronny Rodriguez came off the base before forcing Grossman at second. Grossman, who was too far off the bag to reasonably attempt returning, simply walked off the field after he was called out.

But when replay coordinator and former minor-league pitcher Corey Baker alerted Molitor that he thought maybe Rodriguez hadn’t kept his foot on the bag long enough, the manager was glad he saw it, because it was the sort of play that otherwise could have easily slipped through the cracks.

After an extensive replay process, the umpires ruled Grossman safe and awarded him second base. That brought out Ron Gardenhire for a signature tirade, though he did have a good point — why should Grossman be allowed to take the base if he never made the effort to return?

“Well it was a long delay and the only reason I could come to as to why it took so long is that you can make an argument on both sides,” Molitor said. “Robbie thinks he’s been called out at second so he makes no effort to get back to the base. Their argument is why would they throw back to second if they knew he had come off the base because they had already gotten the out call.

“It kind of goes both ways, but there is something in there about when a base is abandoned and the out call is made it’s going to favor the offensive team, I believe, in replacing the runner on second base. It was a good catch by replay because I was closing my eyes, hoping not to see a triple play, so I missed the play at second.”

But that’s where Pandora’s Box of replay reviews is opened up. Grossman had no reason to return to, or loiter near second base after being called out, so he dutifully made his way off the field. Hypothetically, if Goodrum had mishandled the throw badly enough that Austin could have taken second, Grossman could the be obstructing the play by hanging around second as part of the hypothetical “what if?” question that replay is forced to answer.

So while Gardenhire had a point that Grossman never made a reasonable effort to go back to the bag, expecting him to go back to a bag he’s already been told he has no stake to is like a washed pig returning to his mud.

Gardenhire’s ire proved prescient, as the Twins went on to score five runs in the inning, turning a 6-4 game into an 11-4 laugher, while capping the scoring for the chilly evening.

Notes

  • The win was the 300th of Molitor’s managerial career. “It snuck up on me a little bit.,” Molitor said “Didn’t realize it until Joe acknowledged it after the game, which was nice. I guess baseball likes round numbers. Would like to get to 300 wins already before you’ve have seen 300 losses, but that hasn’t been the case. Keep moving forward.”
  • Molitor said that Gabriel Moya was going to work as The Opener on Friday — his fourth game against the Tigers this season.
  • Molitor on Astudillo’s three-hit night: “He continues to do just what he does. He puts the ball in play and he’s finding the barrel a lot. He’s been getting his hits. We tried the hit and run with him there in a little different situation than normal and he hit a bullet right to the second baseman. I think he’s feeling really good. We got him in there today even though he wasn’t catching and he stepped and contributed to the offensive output.”
  • Thursday was the final game covered by Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. After six years on the Twins beat, he’s moving to Indiana to take on the Notre Dame football beat for the IndyStar. As as friend of Zone Coverage, we wish him nothing but the best on both a personal and professional level.

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