The Twins were facing elimination and tied with Houston 1-1 on Sept. 30 at Target Field. The ongoing question with Jose Berrios for two full seasons and now in this mini-season had been:
Two-time All-Star, yes, but can he be classified as an ace?
On this afternoon, as the Twins as an organization faced an 18th straight postseason loss, Berrios definitely was that – cruising through five innings, allowing one run, two hits, two walks and striking out four. He threw 47 strikes on 75 pitches.
And showing no confidence in the 26-year-old righthander, manager Rocco Baldelli sent the message in the dugout that Berrios was finished. There was a angry look on Berrios’ face, and certainly this question had to occur with teammates:
“Jose’s throwing like this in a tight ballgame, and we’re hooking him in favor of Cody Stashak?’’
Stashak got the Astros out in the sixth, then gave up a mighty home run to deep right-center off Carlos Correa in the seventh. The Twins couldn’t score, and the final was 3-1.
When the Berrios decision was questioned, the reply from defenders came: “You’re not going to win a game with one run.’’
Which doesn’t change Rocco’s absurd decision to finally get the outstanding Berrios the Twins have been waiting to see in a huge game, and then hooking him after 75 pitches and five innings.
On Tuesday night, the underdog Tampa Bay Rays were facing elimination in Game 6 of the World Series against the deeper, star-laden Los Angeles Dodgers.
The lone advantage of the Rays was that they had Blake Snell, the 27-year-old lefthander, ready to start on extra rest. He had been solid in Game 2 as the Rays evened the Series, and there was hope that on this night Snell would be the same marvelous lefty he was in winning the American League’s Cy Young Award in 2018.
He was all of that and then some. He had a 1-0 lead through five innings, with one hit allowed, no walks … and nine strikeouts. NINE. The Dodgers’ top three of Mookie Betts, Cory Seager and Jason Turner, as good as it gets, had six at-bats against Snell with six strikeouts.
Snell was sharp with all four pitches – so good in quickly striking out Betts, Seager and Turner in the first that I went to my traditional Ron Gardenhire parody on Twitter, opining the ball was really coming out of Snell’s hand, and that he was throwing the fire out of it.
Nothing changed over the next four innings. The Dodgers had zero chance.
Snell popped out A.J. Pollock to open the sixth, then Austin Barnes dropped a single into center. With little hesitation, Rays manager Kevin Cash came up the dugout steps and headed to the mound to replace Snell.
The stunned look from Snell -- and loud profaity -- topped Berrios; anger four weeks earlier. I took it very calmly in the TV den, shouting, “Don’t do this, you idiot,’’ which caused the bride watching her very important Housewives show upstairs to wonder what had gone wrong.
There are negative stats about Snell on his third time facing a lineup, and his rarely going past six innings. But not this Snell, not the way he was throwing all his pitches on Tuesday night. Not with the “Holy Hades!’’ looks he was getting from the Dodgers as they headed back to the dugout.
John Smoltz was on TV saying that when you take out a pitcher and the other team is relieved you’re doing so, that has a tendency to be a bad decision, and he guaranteed the Dodgers were relieved to see Snell leaving.
Later, Cash would admit he didn’t want to Snell to face Mookie a third time, and Mookie would say he was very content not to face Snell for a third time.
Cash went to Nick Anderson, one of ours from Minnesota, great during this mini-season but unreliable in this postseason. He had given up runs in six straight appearances, and it quickly became seven, when Betts rocketed a double down the left-field line, and the Dodgers wound up scoring twice – one charged to Snell, the other to Anderson, but all on Nick’s shoulders.
Tuesday night was the 29th anniversary of Jack Morris pitching a 10-inning shutout to win the 1991 World Series for the Twins. Famously, manager Tom Kelly came to Morris in the dugout after nine, gave him the “great job’’ sendoff, and Jack said be was fine and demanded the 10th.
No one imagines those days for starting pitching to return – too many numbers stating starters waver when facing hitters for the third time – but, still, there was an urge to get Jack’s reaction to Snell’s hook while that half-inning still was unfolding.
Morris answered, informed that I was among a handful of such calls he had taken in the five minutes since Cash made his march to the mound, and then said this:
“Blake Snell was throwing better tonight than anyone I’ve ever seen in the World Series. These analytics guys we have now think numbers are more important than having an ace at his best on the hill.’’
What would have been his reaction if a manager came to get him in mid-inning while still throwing great, as Cash did Snell? “I don’t know what would’ve happened,’’ Morris said. “It wouldn’t have been good. It might’ve been real bad.’’
And: “We keep seeing it, but taking out a guy who already had struck out Mookie twice … that was unbelievable to me.’’
The Dodgers won the game, 3-1, and the World Series, a result that Kevin Cash deserved for sticking with his numbers, and not believing what he thought were his lyin’ eyes.