There was Jorge Alcala making his major league debut with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning. Unfortunately for one of the Minnesota Twins’ top pitching prospects, the game, which ended 12-5, was already out of hand and everyone just wanted it to end at that point.
So how did we get here?
Well, the Twins scored four runs in the fifth inning to give Jose Berrios a 5-2 lead. But Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier, the first two Kansas City Royals batters he faced in the sixth, singled. Alex Gordon hit into a double play, but Ryan McBroom’s single scored one run and Ryan O’Hearn put one in the second deck to tie it at 5-5.
Berrios said the first two singles, which were not hit hard, didn’t bother him too much. “But then I got the ball for the double play, and then the third to right field and then I got frustrated because I was like, ‘They’re not hitting the ball hard, and it was just dropping,’” he said. “They’re finding the holes, so it was a little frustrating.”
“Truthfully, I thought he threw the ball well,” said Baldelli. “There were some balls that were put in play and found some space out there,” adding that he thought he would get out of the sixth inning unscathed.
“The way he was throwing the ball,” he added, “I didn’t see that coming.”
Tyler Duffey and Sergio Romo held Kansas City scoreless, and turned it over to Taylor Rogers, who has become one of the most reliable closers in baseball.
O’Hearn started the inning with a single. Humberto Arteaga bunted him over to second, and Cheslor Cuthbert came off the bench to hit his first pinch-hit home run to put the Royals up 7-5. Rogers gave up a double to the next batter, Whit Merrifield and his night was over.
Hildenberger came in, gave up four runs without recording an out, and then turned the ball over to Alcala.
“Yeah, that’s baseball,” said Rogers, calmly. “If we’re in a different shift then the ground ball is an out, and maybe that kind of drifts foul and it’s a different story.”
“Sometimes things just don’t play out the way you want them to, and there’s not a lot to single out,” echoed Baldelli. “Was he as sharp as he normally is? I mean, he’s nails almost every time he goes out there. He just throws the hell out of the ball and does a great job, and marches and walks right into the dugout quietly and does his thing and the inning’s over.
“Seems like when he doesn’t work out like that, it’s very odd.”
He almost looked shocked that the media wanted to talk with him after the game. Fair or unfair, relievers typically are left alone when they do their job, and are asked to talk to the press if they blow a save or give up the lead.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had to do this, so that’s pretty good news,” said Rogers. “It’s pretty good news. On a side note, I did see that we have a franchise record for strikeouts, so that’s cool. That’s cool. Did anybody tell me about that?”
He said the last part while smiling. But it’s worth noting that the “pitch to contact” philosophy is a thing of the past, and while there isn’t a strikeout display to go along with the Bomba Counter in left and right field, the bullpen, specifically, has pulled it together recently.
The starting rotation is another story. Michael Pineda looked like a Game 1 starter in the playoffs until he was suspended 60 games for performance-enhancing drugs. Kyle Gibson has dealt with sickness all year, and Martin Perez has been inconsistent. But Jake Odorizzi and Berrios will be relied on to get outs in the playoffs, which are becoming increasingly closer to reality with the Cleveland Indians losing, reducing their magic number to four.
“My stuff is working for me. It was working today,” said Berrios. “It was just like I guess an unlucky outing, if you want to call it that way. Not to make excuses, but it was just one of those things.”
Baldelli, like Berrios and Rogers, did not seem concerned that this loss would have a carryover effect late in the season.
“When you play a competitive game and you’re in the game until the very end and then it kind of unwinds like that, it’s tough in some ways,” he said. “It happens a few times every year. This is going to be one of those times for us. We’ll regroup.”
They have all year, and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t after this one. It just led to a bit of an unceremonious debut for Alcala.