It was a pitch Mike Pelfrey knew he would lie awake into the early morning thinking about.
The Twins righthander was a strike away from getting out of the third inning Friday night with only one Blue Jays run scored off him. Instead, he threw a sinker over too much of the plate to Brett Lawrie, who hit a single to center that drove in two runs.
Toronto added two more in the inning to take a five-run lead. The Twins fought back but lost 6-5 at Target Field, and that made Pelfrey feel even worse. He has pitched noticeably better since the All-Star break. He is trying to persuade the Twins to re-sign him for 2014. But that one pitch to Lawrie slowed his second-half roll and, probably, settled the outcome of the game.
“I wanted to go back in[side],” Pelfrey said. “He had just swung through a sinker inside, but the next onc was more over the plate. Quality strikes and quality pitches. I didn’t do that in that inning and it ended up costing me.”
Pelfrey entered Friday with a respectable 3.73 ERA since the All-Star break. It has been during this stretch that his stuff has looked as alive as it has all season, and Pelfrey is finally showing what he can do after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in April 2011. He settled down after the five-run third to pitch the fourth, fifth and six innings.
“You have been up in the [press] box, seeing him go 3-2 on every hitter,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You want him to throw the ball over the plate. You want to see him keep the game going, not 100 pitches in five innings. But more than anything else he is throwing with conviction right now. It looks like he really has a feel for what he is doing.
“There comes that time after surgery that, all of a sudden, you’ve got no fear. And maybe he’s there, maybe there’s no soreness, no anything.”
It is a welcome relief for the Twins, who watched Pelfrey go 4-7 with a 5.55 ERA before the All-Star break. Friday night, however, Pelfrey wasn’t good enough to stop the Twins’ puzzling home losing streak. The Twins have dropped eight in a row and 10 of their past 12 games at Target Field.
The Twins tried to rally, as Chris Colabello hit a two-run homer in the seventh, Trevor Plouffe had a RBI single in the eighth and Josmil Pinto hit his first career homer in the ninth, the ball traveling an estimated 421 feet. The Twins dugout erupted when Pinto’s ball cleared the fence.
“We needed to get something going,” said Colabello, who struck out with two on and two out in the eighth inning. “There was two senses of jubilation. One, we had just made it a one-run game and we’re now one swing away from tying it up. The second was [Pinto] was able to get his first career homer. He’s a tremendous worker and a tremendous kid.”
The rally fell short, as the game ended on a double play — Ryan Doumit struck out and Alex Presley was thrown out trying to steal second. One swing away. One pitch away.
Pelfrey was kicking himself as he spoke with reporters after the game. Signed to a one-year deal before the season, he has told the club that he would like to come back next year, and he wants to give the Twins reasons to want him back.
“It’s in their hands,” he said, “and we’ll see what happens.”
About two hours earlier, it was in his hands. And he let the game get away from him.