KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Let’s see, how can we pinpoint exactly how spectacular Andrew Albers’ major-league debut was? There’s the number of runs allowed: 0, in 8⅓ innings, the longest outing by a Twins pitcher this year. There’s the hits allowed: four, all of them harmless singles. There’s the batters allowed to reach second base: only one, on Albers’ last pitch of the night.
But Chris Herrmann, who caught Albers’ 109 “invisible” pitches during his bravura 7-0 domination of the Royals on Tuesday, offered the best gauge of Albers’ mastery: F-bombs.
“They were cursing a lot. They were getting mad,” Herrmann said of the Royals’ red-hot lineup. “I was smiling back there. I was laughing, just watching the way they were getting so frustrated.”
That’s because Albers, the first major leaguer from Saskatchewan since Terry Puhl retired in 1991, throws fastballs that aren’t particularly fast, changeups that sort of chug along, and a cutter that does nothing but break four inches as it reaches the plate. He threw one or two pitches that registered 89 miles per hour, but mostly kept the ball at a speed high school kids might mock.
Funny thing about those fast-slowballs, though. “People asked me all the time down in Rochester — ‘He throws 86, 88, how come I’m so uncomfortable in the box?’ ” Chris Colabello said with evident pride at his fellow Can-Am Association refugee’s success. “I say, ‘You’re not the only one, man.’ He just misses bats.”
Or breaks them. Albers recorded 25 outs, and 15 of them came on ground balls, and another four on infield popups. He struck out two; after allowing a first-inning single to Eric Hosmer, quickly erased on a double play, he retired the next 16 batters in a row. All this against a team that had beaten the Twins five consecutive games, pounded Minnesota for 13 runs the night before, and had won 14 of its past 17 games.
“They weren’t picking up very well. My fastball had a little bit of life to it today,” said Albers, who had his parents, two sisters and at least a half-dozen other family and friends, many from little Battleford, Saskatchewan, his hometown, in the stands for the occasion. “... They just kept hitting the ball where guys were at.”
Well, that’s what Albers does, and it’s why he was 11-5 at Class AAA Rochester.
“He was going with what was working tonight,” Herrmann said. “His fastball command was there, his cutter command was there, and we used a changeup here and there. But for the most part, we stuck to the fastball, inside. He pounded it inside. Albers doesn’t throw the hardest, but he hits his spots and has movement. When you’re throwing inside and it’s moving, it makes hitters uncomfortable.”
The Twins made James Shields uncomfortable right from the start, pounding the Royals ace for three home runs, including Brian Dozier’s shot into the bullpen to lead off the game and Justin Morneau’s team-leading 11th to give Albers a 3-0 lead before he stepped on the mound.
The only question after that was, would Albers become only the second Twin in history to pitch a complete game in his debut, joining Jay Pettibone in 1983?
“It would have been nice,” Albers said, and a double-play ball in the ninth might have done it, but first base umpire Chris Conroy missed the call, replays showed. After Albers walked Hosmer on his 109th pitch, manager Ron Gardenhire came to get him, letting Casey Fien complete the Twins’ sixth shutout of the year.
“I did not want to go out there and take him out,” Gardenhire said. “I thought he was absolutely out of gas, [and] I didn’t want to see him walking off after giving up a hit or something crazy. But wow, that was fun to watch.”
For everyone but the Royals.