KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Minnesota Twins have the look and the swagger of a team simply playing out the string before opening the playoffs next Friday. That’ll most likely be in the Bronx against the New York Yankees.
That shouldn’t be construed as negative, either. The Twins rolled into Kauffman Stadium at 4:30 on Friday afternoon — two hours, 45 minutes before the originally scheduled first pitch — and didn’t take batting practice on the field. That’s a practice that’s at least in part inspired by one of manager Rocco Baldelli’s skippers when he was a player, Joe Maddon.
Baldelli allows the players to prepare their own way on days like that, and it worked on Friday as the Twins won a rain-shortened game over the Kansas City Royals, 6-2.
The game was halted in the top of the seventh inning and never resumed after a 40-minute delay, giving the Twins their 100th win of the season for the first time since 1965.
The Twins offense wasted little time going to work against lefty Eric Skoglund, who came into the game with a 7.50 ERA and somehow still managed to see it go up — to 9.00 after Friday’s debacle. Minnesota scored two runs in each of the first three innings, trading blows back and forth with the Yankees for the MLB lead in home runs.
Miguel Sano — who somewhat humorously made his first MLB start as a leadoff batter — hit a massive home run into the fountains in left-center in the second inning to give the Twins a 4-1 lead, and Ryan LaMarre followed with one just a few feet shorter but in the same general direction to push the lead to 6-1.
Baldelli said that the Twins had coined a nickname for Sano, “Little Rickey” as a nod to Rickey Henderson, and Sano countered by saying the team wouldn’t let him steal even though he wanted to.
“I tried, but they didn’t let me,” Sano said with a laugh.
That was more than enough for Jose Berrios, who was in midseason form with six innings of two-run ball, nine strikeouts and just a pair of walks. Berrios induced 16 swinging strikes on the night — eight on the four-seam fastball, five on the changeup and three on the curve — as he threw 99 pitches. The second out in the sixth inning represented him crossing the 200-inning mark for the season, a goal he set for himself prior to the season.
After the final out, a strikeout of catcher Meibrys Viloria, Berrios stalked off the mound and let out an audible shout that could be heard over the 15,389 fans in attendance all the way up to the press box.
“It was excitement,” Berrios said. “I knew I completed 200 1/3 (innings) I believe. The plan was to go out and get the two outs and complete the 200 innings and he gave me a chance to stay there and get the last batter. That was what that was all about.”
Berrios showed good velocity on the night as well, touching 96 mph with his four-seam fastball while averaging 94.2, with his two-seamer not far behind (95 mph max, 93.8 average).
“I feel really good,” Berrios said while noting that he’s still doing the postgame routine he mentioned after his start on Sept. 16. “I feel strong and I think my mechanics are working, everything is working together right now and the correct way.”
The sharpness for Berrios didn’t go unnoticed by his manager, of course.
“Yeah, he’s been on some sort of directive or mission,” Baldelli said. “He looks great right now. He’s gotten everything going in a really nice direction. His stuff has certainly ticked up. There’s stuff, there’s velo, and then there’s what his pitches are actually doing, and we like very much what we’re seeing right now.
“In addition to that, he’s been able to put the ball where he wants it. That’s a great thing — one uptick, whether it be command or in pure stuff, would be great. And when you see a guy that’s really locking in always, that’s a great sign.”
Berrios also exorcised some Royals-related demons after his last start — also against Kansas City — where he gave up five earned runs in six innings in a 12-5 loss for the Twins at Target Field on Sept. 21. The Royals had been semi-tough on Berrios all season, scoring 10 earned runs in 20 innings (4.50 ERA) in three no-decisions.
Berrios nearly didn’t make the start with ominous weather in the forecast early on Friday afternoon.
“We discussed it,” Baldelli said about potentially pushing Berrios back to start Saturday to avoid another Jake Odorizzi situation like in Cleveland. “We normally work up until — we try to formulate a plan until our pitchers really get out on the field and start throwing. There have been times where guys are in the training room because they have, guys have long routines and well-thought-out routines and sometimes those routines can start and then you make a decision and you kind of pull them back and you decide you’re going to go with someone else. We were discussing that at this point tonight. We were making sure that the rain didn’t speed up on us before the game.
“We knew we had until roughly the time that it hit, 8:30, 9 maybe before we had to start worrying and we knew there was a chance Jose was going to go out there and throw three-ish innings and there could be rain and there was nothing we were going to do about that. But we liked that as opposed to the alternative of pushing him back again and we just went with it and it worked out.”
The two runs allowed by Berrios don’t give him as much credit as he deserves, either. Both scored under, let’s say, unusual circumstances.
In the first, Hunter Dozier dropped a double between Eddie Rosario and LaMarre on a ball that looked like either one could have feasibly caught (xBA of .010 via Statcast), and it moved Whit Merrifield to third. Merrifield scored on an Alex Gordon grounder to second to cut Minnesota’s lead in half, 2-1.
The second run came in the fifth, when Merrifield hit a ball a little deeper into the gap between Rosario and LaMarre. If Rosario’s ankle was fully healthy, there’s a chance he’d have been able to chase it down.
Merrifield was chased home on a sac fly by Jorge Soler to close the deficit to 6-2, and that was all for the scoring before the torrential downpours invaded around 9:30 p.m.
Notes & Quotes
- Despite the game being shortened by rain, Berrios is credited with a complete game — the team’s first of the year.
- The Twins improved to 13-4 against the Royals this season, one shy of the team’s record of 14 wins in 2002 (14-5).
- Baldelli announced after the game that Cody Stashak and Martin Perez were getting the starts on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, to close out the regular season.
- When Skoglund struck out LaMarre in the second it snapped a streak of 39 consecutive batters faced without a strikeout for the lefty, per the Kansas City game notes.
- The Royals honored retiring manager Ned Yost with a special program before first pitch, including giving him a Polaris off-road vehicle.
- The Twins won their 54th road game of the season (54-25, .684), the best mark in the majors and the most in a season in franchise history.
- Baldelli became the seventh manager in MLB history to lead his team to 100 wins in his first season. Two managers — New York’s Aaron Boone and Boston’s Alex Cora — did so last year. The other five: Dusty Baker (SF, 1993), Sparky Anderson (CIN, 1970), Ralph Houk (NYY, 1961) and Mickey Cochrane (DET, 1934).
- The previous record for wins for a rookie manager in franchise history was Joe Cronin’s 99 with the Senators back in 1933 (99-53).
- Baldelli on winning 100 games in his first season as manager: “It’s very cool. We just had a moment too, as a group here, in the clubhouse. It’s really nice in a season full of really cool and exciting times and accomplishments. This was another one that was really, really nice. You don’t get to this point and have this much success without a wonderful group through and through. It was a good night on the field, too. So it was very nice.”
- Baldelli on the costume worn by first-base coach Tommy Watkins on rookie dress-up day — Chubbs Peterson from Happy Gilmore: “That was good. Yeah. Perfect guy for it too. He played cards like that (on the airplane), with that hand.”
- Sano on if he and his teammates are paying attention to the home-run race between them and the Yankees: “I don’t know about home runs. We want to play good every day and do our jobs and win some games. That happens because of the opportunities that God gave us to play well like that. That’s amazing.”
- Berrios on what it meant to reach 200 innings: “Thank God for the opportunity to reach that goal. That’s one of the goals I wrote. I like to write my goals before the season starts and that’s one of the ones I had last year. I rewrote it last year and we got that one but we still have some other goals that we’re going to accomplish this year.”