Through seven full innings, things went off without a hitch.
The No. 5 starter for the Minnesota Twins showed very few signs of rust, the first reliever out of the bullpen was dominant, a middle-of-the-order newcomer popped a big, go-ahead homer and a gaffe on the bases was credited to the visiting Toronto Blue Jays instead of the local nine.
Until the top of the eighth, everything was coming up Millhouse.
That’s when things unraveled and led to a 5-3 loss, taking fans back to a 2018 season that saw the Twins blow countless leads and lose more than their fair share of close games in come-from-ahead fashion.
“One Night in April” may not make for a critically acclaimed cinematic splash, but for Rocco Baldelli and company, the hope is that the show is just for one night only.
Here’s what I saw:
The turning point
At first, it appeared that C.J. Cron‘s home run to left — his second in as many days — would be that moment. That pushed Minnesota’s win expectancy up to 76.7 percent, and it threatened 90 percent — until Adalberto Mejia happened.
Mejia allowed four earned runs — including a go-ahead three-run homer to Teoscar Hernandez — to take the loss. Even though Mejia came back to pitch a clean ninth inning, his season ERA sits at an unsightly 9.39.
Martin Perez was very good
Perez did everything the Twins could have asked of him after not making a start through the season’s first two-plus weeks. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of 25 hitters, fanned five in six innings and walked just two while scattering seven hits and an earned run, lowering his season ERA to 5.02 in the process.
StatCast had Perez sitting 94-95 mph with his two- and four-seam fastballs, just under 90 with his cutter and at 86.0 and 79.6 mph with his changeup and curveball, respectively. He induced eight swinging strikes in 86 pitches — respectable, but right around average — with three coming on the cutter, two on the four-seamer and one apiece on his other three offerings.
Perez touched 97 at one point, which helped allay some of the concerns he had that he hadn’t been using his hips as well as he was during spring training, when his velocity had truly spiked.
“Everything was good,” Perez said. “I was competing and I was down in the zone and hit the glove every time and made my pitches real good. We don’t get the win but that’s part of the game. We have to come back and be ready for tomorrow.”
Baldelli was impressed by the outing as well.
“Yeah, he looked good, and any of the adversity that he felt, he didn’t really show it,” the manager said. “He continued to make good pitches. He’s done a nice job. I’m glad to finally get him out there starting a game and get him into a real routine, because he’s been all over the place because we’ve asked him to be all over the place at this point, and he hasn’t complained one bit.
“He went out there and had a nice start tonight.”
So was Matt Shoemaker
Shoemaker, who like Minnesota’s Blake Parker was non-tendered by the Angels in the offseason, tossed six innings of three-run ball for a minimalist’s quality start.
He exited the start with a 1.75 ERA on the season — good for sixth among qualified starters in either league.
“Well, I think their starting pitcher did a good job, first of all,” Baldelli said. “He’s done a really nice job all year. He’s got a good split-fingered pitch. He pitched well. He found the bottom of the zone, found some places where we probably weren’t looking for the ball or wanting to take our swings at, and he put the ball where he wanted to. He also battled through some things on their end and stayed in the game for a while and gave them a chance to win.
“We’re going to probably have to do more offensively on a night like tonight to get things going for ourselves and make some things happen, but overall it was fine. I think their starter did a nice job, though.”
StatCast had Shoemaker throwing 36 splitters, 29 two-seamers, 17 four-seamers, 12 sliders and six knucklecurves, so while he wasn’t dialing it up on the radar gun — 93.2 mph max velocity on the night — he was giving the Twins fits with all sorts of different looks.
In fact, Baldelli’s comments rang true — 11 of Shoemaker’s 13 swinging strikes on 100 pitches came via the splitter.
Mejia, however, was not
After Ryne Harper fanned a pair of Blue Jays in a scoreless seventh inning, Baldelli turned to Mejia in the eighth inning to maintain a 3-1 lead. Instead, Mejia exchanged the lead for an identical deficit before settling down to get his last six outs of the night.
The eighth inning started with a Freddy Galvis single to center. Randal Grichuk followed with a double to deep right, and Justin Smoak singled home Galvis to close the gap to 3-2. Hernandez then followed with a soaring home run into the left-field stands, 405 feet from home plate to give Toronto the 5-3 lead it ultimately won by.
For Baldelli’s money, Mejia did OK getting out in front of hitters — he just couldn’t put them away.
“I think he got ahead fine,” Baldelli said. “He was throwing strikes. He made some good pitches. I think he got right where he wanted to be as far as where he was in those at-bats and just probably didn’t find a way to put the hitters away. We can look into that and talk about that going forward.
“Honestly, it’s not like he did anything but just not put the hitters away and that’s something that we’re going to have to do. Obviously, at that point it’s a 3-1 game and everything matters at that point but again he threw the ball well. He threw strikes, he threw the ball well. It was just kind of a two-strike situation.”
For an inning, it worked.
For the final six outs, it worked.
But for the four hitters between those two spots, it was a debacle.
Baldelli picked up his first-ever ejection as a manager in the bottom of the eighth
Cron was up with a full count in the eighth inning, and on a changeup swung and told the umpire that the ball hit him on the hand.
Umpire Mike Estabrook demurred, and after a brief interaction threw out the Twins manager for the first time in his now 13-game career as skipper.
“It’s polite,” Baldelli said of his interaction with Estabrook. “There was just a disagreement that we probably were not going to get resolved while we were standing out there. It was a difference of opinion. That was pretty much it. There probably wasn’t a ton to flip out about out there but I wasn’t going to go back to the dugout until there was some kind of resolution and that’s where the resolution kind of showed up.”
And rest assured, parents of little ones, Baldelli kept it PG.
“No,” Baldelli said when asked if he uttered any magic words. “And truthfully what’s said out there, for the most part, should stay out there most of the time. I think this instance is a good example of that. Honestly, there was a difference of opinion and that was pretty much it.”
Cron, for his part, didn’t really know what to think.
“I was surprised because it hit my bat for sure,” he told reporters afterward. “It hit my fingers, too. I don’t know what exactly happened but as a hitter when the ball hits your bat, you just assume foul ball. He just told me it didn’t hit my finger and I was like ‘It hit the bat, too.’
“It was a little bit of a late call. He didn’t really do it until I kind of winced a little bit. I’m not going to lie, it didn’t feel very good. I tried to hold that in. A little disagreement I guess. It’s hard to tell. I haven’t even watched on replay so I don’t know if you can tell or not, but it definitely hit my bat.”
Cron did, however, say he appreciated Baldelli having his back.
“I kind of left before he got tossed because he seemed to be handling it pretty well,” the first baseman said. “I had nothing left to say. That’s just the kind of guy Rocco is. He’s going to have our backs. He’s a great manager so far. I’m happy to be here playing for him. He had my back. I may have to buy him a little something to say thank you. It is what it is and we’re going to move on.”
Notes & Quotes
- Mejia was charged with the team’s first blown save of the season.
- Harper still hasn’t allowed an earned run in the big leagues.
- Jorge Polanco had his sixth multi-hit game of the season, a team-high.
- Perez on improving his hip action: “As you can see, I started throwing 97 the last two innings. That’s the key, when I use my hips everything is right there and I can throw the pitch where I want and I move the ball well. I used my changeup a lot and my breaking ball. I gotta stay there. It’s going to be a long season. With this effort tonight this says to me that I can do a lot for this team and we have a great team. So we have to stay there and stay focus every day and come back to competing and we will be in a good spot in September.”
- Willians Astudillo on throwing out a confused Hernandez, who took off for second when Brandon Drury thought he’d walked on ball three in the sixth inning: “I was paying attention to the runner and to the count, and he started running to first, and I’m like, ‘No, it’s three balls.’ So I told (Perez), ‘Hey, throw to first. Throw to first.'”