Jose Berrios has been getting heat in the challenging world of social media opinions and newspaper comments since the start of his annual late-summer trance against Atlanta on Aug. 6.
The actual ballgame attendees are more forgiving in their views, particularly when a pitcher is just 25 and already in his third season as his team’s best starter by a considerable margin.
On Friday night, in the sixth inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers, a team with 20 wins in previous 87 games, the tolerant view of Berrios came to an end before a fine crowd of 31,278 at Target Field.
The Tigers had continued to excel at avoiding runs, leaving five runners on in the first three innings. Berrios followed those difficulties with a pair of sturdy innings, and it was 3-0 for the Twins entering the sixth.
And then what happened with Ron Gardenhire’s Tabbies? You guessed it.
They battled their tails off. And Berrios, missing ace, collapsed.
He allowed two singles and a double to open the inning. Most any runner other than Miguel Cabrera, his legs gone, and it would have been a two-run double for light-hitting Dawel Lugo, but only one run scored.
So, it was 3-1 and after a line-out and a walk, the bases were loaded with one out. Ronny Rodriguez was Detroit’s batter. Rodriguez hit two home runs in Target Field against Michael Pineda on May 11. And he hit a home run to beat Justin Verlander 2-1 in Houston on Wednesday.
Berrios moved the count to 1-2, tried to get him to chase another breaking pitch away, and instead hung it inside and Rodriguez hit a soaring fly ball down the left-field line.
Those who didn’t have a location that looks down the line were hoping that it might twist foul. Those who do have the location saw that there was no twist in this moon shot.
The grand slam was Rodriguez’s first in the big leagues and the Tigers’ third of the season. And there was another first: A solid share of the home crowd joined in a blast of boos for Berrios.
Those boos still were echoing when Jordy Mercer ripped the next pitch for a single. And that was it for Berrios: 5⅓ innings, 10 hits, five runs, two walks and five strikeouts, and eventually, a 9-6 loss that puts Berrios at 2-6 in decisions since the middle of June.
That was it for the night, in fact. He didn’t stick around to assess his latest failure. He took off before the media was allowed in the clubhouse. Call it 50-50; half frustration, half immaturity.
Early this season, I joined in the Berrios accolades and made the comparison in stuff to what Johan Santana had offered as the Twins’ lefthanded superstar. He was never going to have Johan’s changeup (who will?), but he was working on one to make him a complete pitcher.
Today, the guess is the emotional difference between Santana and Berrios is greater than the quality of pitches. Johan would get in a funk and fight out of it quickly. Berrios seems to let the failure drag him down — and took off before answering for the latest of those on Friday night.
Or, maybe he had relatives who wanted to see the fireworks, as if they had not seen enough with those 11 hard-hit balls (over 95 miles per hour) — a season-high and matching a career-high in 95 starts.
August has been subpar for Berrios in the past, but this has been terrible. In four starts, he has pitched 21⅓ innings, allowed 32 hits, 24 runs (20 earned), six home runs, walked 10 and struck out 22.
The earned run average for this month is 8.44, but he hasn’t pitched that well. His total runs average per appearance is 10.14, with one Sano error accounting for four unearned runs.
Remember back in June and July, when Cleveland was charging and the Twins’ 11½-game lead was declining, and the party line was the Indians’ surge was a product of a playing weak teams, and wait until the Twins hit an easy part of the schedule?
That scenario failed to factor in this: Berrios going from major asset to late-summer liability.
Apparently the oddsmakers had not noticed that, either. The Twins were a minus-$350 in Friday’s betting line, meaning if you wanted to make $100 by riding Berrios, you had to risk $350.
That’s big, even when facing the worst team in the big leagues.
Playing bad teams doesn’t guarantee anything, not if your best starter is going to pitch like he’s your worst.