Kenta Maeda Had a No-Hitter Through the 8th Inning. Should He Have Pitched the 9th?

Photo credit: Marilyn Indahl (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Twins won a 4-3 thriller on Tuesday night at Target Field, but needed 12 innings and the benefit of the new “runner-on-second-base” rule to scratch the final run across.

But that only tells part of the story.

For first 114 pitches of the night, the world was Kenta Maeda‘s oyster.

He had 12 strikeouts. He’d allowed just two baserunners.

Oh, and by the way, he was two outs away from the team’s no-hitter since Francisco Liriano did so on the south side of Chicago 3,396 days ago.

It might have been the most dominant no-hitter in Twins history. Liriano had six walks and just two strikeouts. Eric Milton faced a severely diluted Anaheim Angels lineup in 1999. Scott Erickson struck out just five Milwaukee Brewers and walked four in his no-no in 1994.

Maeda was absolutely dazzling. He threw just 22 four-seam fastballs and only 13 sinkers — again sticking with his approach of changeups and sliders which he has adjusted to through five terrific starts with the Twins.

Twenty-six of Maeda’s pitches were swings that came up empty by Brewers hitters. Only 15 were called strikes. It was just pure domination. Fourteen of the swinging strikes came on changeups; six more came on sliders.

Maeda was again devastating against lefties, with 12 swinging strikes in 65 total pitches against them. Only six of those pitches were put into play. A total of 69 percent of Maeda’s pitches against lefties were changeups and sliders — a point illustrated in this very space recently.

Yes, for 114 pitches Maeda showed pure and absolute domination — showing exactly why the Twins coveted him even if it cost the prized right arm of Brusdar Graterol to acquire him.

But a bloop single floated over Jorge Polanco‘s glove by Eric Sogard ended Maeda’s bid after 27 batters faced — and that’s when the floodgates opened.

Manager Rocco Baldelli went to Taylor Rogers — a decision questioned in hindsight — as Maeda playfully doffed his cap to the cardboard cutouts in attendance.

It took just two pitches from Rogers for things to go from Dr. Feelgood to critical mass, though. Avisail Garcia roped a double over Eddie Rosario‘s head in left, and Rogers lost Christian Yelich on four straight balls out of the zone after the 2019 MVP just missed a 94 mph sinker down the middle, fouling it off on the first pitch.

With the bases loaded, Keston Hiura singled to center to score Sogard and move the line. Jedd Gyorko followed with a grounder to short, but Ildemaro Vargas — who entered the game defensively for Luis Arraez to start the inning — made an errant throw that Marwin Gonzalez couldn’t corral at first, which allowed Yelich to scamper home with the tying run.

Rogers recovered to strike Ryan Braun and Manny Pina out swinging, but the damage was done — leaving many to second guess Baldelli’s decisions.

Should Maeda have started the ninth inning? The consensus seemed to be yes, and that didn’t seem to waver a ton even after Sogard’s Texas Leaguer found its way onto the center-field grass, leaving nothing but a sheepish grin on Maeda’s face as Baldelli ambled out to take his pitcher of the game after a career-high pitch total.

So maybe it was more just the decision to bring in Rogers — but even that feels a bit strong.

Has Rogers been the classic version of himself this year? One could say no, but that’s not totally fair. His sample size was a whopping 8.1 innings coming into the game, and he had 10 strikeouts, no walks and four earned runs allowed (4.32 ERA) against a FIP of 2.28.

Rogers also didn’t really give up any hard contact:

These things happen. He didn’t come into the tightest of spots, but the double he allowed to Garcia had an expected batting average (xBA) of just .100. It was just well-placed.

Things got even nuttier after that. Consider:

Caleb Thielbar pitched the 10th inning

Rocco’s first man out of the chute in extras was probably also about his 10th man in the bullpen, but the group has been overworked lately — especially with a bullpen game — and thus the first inning of work went to the local boy, who responded with three easy fly-ball outs.

Only two Twins batted in the 11th

After Josh Hader did what Josh Hader does in the bottom of the 10th, the Brewers went to journeyman David Phelps with Vargas — who made Hader work with a 10-pitch at-bat to end the previous frame — on second. Ehire Adrianza hit a grounder to first base right at Gyorko — who has played a ton of non-first-base infield in his career — who alertly fired to Luis Urias at third to nab Vargas for the first out of the inning.

Byron Buxton followed with his second double-play grounder in as many at-bats — after hitting into just eight in his first 412 MLB games — as Phelps got out of the jam by facing just two batters.

Gyorko giveth, and taketh

Gyorko started the 12th inning on second base and moved to third on a Braun single to open the inning against Jorge Alcala. The young fireballer rebounded to get Pina to pop to second, and Orlando Arcia — younger brother of former Twin Oswaldo — followed with a sinking liner to right that Max Kepler speared just before it hit the ground.

Gyorko got a terrible read on the ball, and broke for home before stopping about one-third of the way down the baseline to retreat. He was stranded at third when Urias struck out swinging, leaving Alcala to storm off the mound with evident emotion as the Brewers infielder swung through back to back upper-80s sliders.

If you think Rogers got BABIP’d, the Twins won the game on a swinging bunt by Alex Avila and a dribbler off the bat of Polanco. The exit velo on Avila’s smash?

A bone-chilling 55.0 mph.

How about Polanco? Better put on a jacket — 45.6 mph.

The total distance traveled according to Statcast between the two? How about a meager 26 feet?

Baseball is a strange game, friends.

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