It’s June and there is plenty of season left. But Twins righthander Jose Berrios looked across the diamond on Monday night and saw the defending World Series champion Red Sox.
It wasn’t going to be just another outing.
“I’ve always thought if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Berrios said. “Tonight I had a chance to try to do that. We didn’t make it, but we will have more opportunities to come through.”
Berrios was up for the challenge, becoming the first Twins pitcher this year to strike out 10 without walking a batter. He retired 19 in a row after giving up three singles and a run right out of the gate.
The normally robust Twins offense, however, was stymied by Rick Porcello, who led Boston to a 2-0 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Target Field.
The Twins were shut out for only the second time in 2019. Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, held them to four hits and one walk while striking out eight in seven innings. Colten Brewer got through a hair-raising eighth inning before Ryan Brasier, in his first appearance in a week because of bereavement leave, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his seventh save.
Being shut out means not hitting any home runs. So the Twins’ streak of hitting a homer in 20 consecutive games — two shy of the MLB record held by Colorado in 2014 — also ended. Porcello (5-6) earned his eighth victory at Target Field, the most by any opponent.
“He was executing his pitches, locating his pitches where he wanted to,” Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco said of Porcello. “He did well.
“Obviously it’s difficult. We lost the game. But we turn the page. It’s not frustrating. It’s just part of the game.”
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The announced crowd of 27,790 — well, those who weren’t Red Sox fans — sure seemed frustrated at the end of the eighth inning.
Brewer gave up a single to Jonathan Schoop and a walk to Max Kepler to start the inning. Polanco, the AL’s leading hitter, opted to bunt the runners to second and third instead of throwing his .332 average at the ball.
“I was trying to bunt for a hit, but I also wanted to move the runners,” Polanco said. “I ended up moving the runners. That was that.”
That brought up Nelson Cruz, who fell behind 0-2 in the count before tapping back to Brewer. The reliever threw home to start a rundown that ended with Schoop being tagged out, with Kepler returning to second after nearly reaching third. Eddie Rosario then came up with two on, but he bounced out to first to end the inning.
“In my opinion, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Polanco’s decision. “So, I think you can always lean on taking your chances with him swinging the bat. But we all also trust our guys, where I’m not going to stand here and tell you I disapprove of the decision he made out on the field. In the heat of the game, he made a decision and I support him.
“We talk about these things all the time with our guys, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this one.”
Blake Parker took over in the ninth inning but gave up two doubles for an insurance run, the second coming with two out on an 0-2 pitch to Xander Bogaerts. Parker, who has a 12.86 ERA over his past eight games, said he had a choice between his split-fingered pitch and his fastball. He went with his fastball but said he threw it too low.
It’s the fifth time the Twins have lost back-to-back games this season. They have not lost three in a row yet, but they face another former Cy Young winner in David Price on Tuesday.
“So it’s tough when we lose like that,” said Berrios (8-3), “but at the end of the day, we battle all day, so we have to feel proud of everybody.”