Houston righthander Gerrit Cole walked Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco to open the first inning. Then Nelson Cruz hit a ball as hard as any Twins player in recent memory has.
Cruz squared up a Cole fastball that came off his bat at 115.2 miles per hour — the hardest-hit ball by a Twins player since Statcast started tracking them in 2015. It had a 66% probability of being a hit — unless it’s anywhere near Astros shortstop Carlos Correa.
Correa snagged the hot grounder off the bounce, while falling back and landing on his rump, to start a double play. Eddie Rosario flew out to center to end the inning.
And the Twins were never the same, because Cole wasn’t the same when he went to the mound for the second inning. That big arm started pelting the strike zone and overpowering Twins hitters so completely that they didn’t get their first hit until the sixth inning. Houston was well on its way to a 11-0 victory by then.
“Once he started pitching with his fastball, and doing what he wanted to with it … he had our number,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
After holding off the Astros in a 1-0 win on Monday, there was no stopping the 2017 World Series champions on Tuesday as they handed the Twins their worst loss and first shutout loss of the season.
Cole scooted through the Twins lineup. The double play started a run of 13 straight batters retired by the righthander. He struck out at least two batters in four different innings — as his fastball reached 98 mph — and struck out the side in the fourth.
Most of the announced crowd of 12,181 cheered when Max Kepler lined a double into the right-field corner in the sixth for the Twins’ first hit of the game. Cole responded by striking out four of the last five batters he faced.
“He was able to take over the at-bats, and command those at-bats, and he did a good job against us,” Baldelli said. “We really couldn’t get a ton going, and truthfully, I think with the cold weather he didn’t spin too many fastballs. He has a pretty good curveball, too, and I think he relied mainly on his hard stuff and his fastball and his slider.”
While Cole subdued Twins hitters, striking out 11, Astros hitters took turns tagging Twins righthander Michael Pineda.
Pineda, 2-2, was fine until the third inning, when he plunked Jake Marisnick with a pitch, then gave up an RBI double to George Springer. Then Pineda needed to strike out Marisnick with the bases loaded to get out of the fourth.
But Springer clubbed a home run and Correa added a sacrifice fly in the fifth to give Houston a 3-0 lead. Pineda went out for the sixth and was greeted with a single by Robinson Chirinos, a two-run home run by Marisnick — and a visit from Baldelli, who pulled him from the game trailing 5-0.
After Pineda left, Houston tacked on two more runs in the sixth off Matt Magill. Then the Astros worked over Adalberto Mejia while scoring four more in the eighth
Of the 23 balls Houston hitters put in play against Pineda, 12 were considered hard hits — 95 mph and higher. That included Springer’s rocket in the fifth that dented the seats in left at 110.6 mph.
“Tonight, for me, I made two mistakes that were hit for homers,” Pineda said. “Those weren’t the pitches that I wanted to throw. I hung my first slider a little bit. Those weren’t the pitches that I wanted, but that happens sometimes.”