Perhaps no pitcher in baseball history had ever achieved what Jose Berrios accomplished at the age of 22 on Thursday night.
He got a Hall of Famer from St. Paul booed in a Minnesota ballpark.
“I don’t know that I’ve had that a ton,” Paul Molitor said.
Berrios had pitched 7 ⅔ scoreless innings, allowing just one walk and two hits. The Twins led by two runs. Berrios had reached 106 pitches.
Molitor walked to the mound, slowly, heard some jeers, and removed Berrios, who left to as loud an ovation as you can get in a sparsely populated ballpark at the end of a split doubleheader.
The Twins finished off a 2-0 victory over Colorado at Target Field, leaving the Twins with this oddity of a day:
On Thursday afternoon, the Twins’ mature ace failed to stop a losing streak.
On Thursday night, the Twins’ next ace did the job.
Ervin Santana’s mediocre start in the first game left Berrios with the responsibility of halting a three-game losing streak to keep his team alone in first place. He took command from the first inning and dominated a quality Colorado lineup, making him 2-0 with an 0.59 ERA in the majors this season after he went 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA at Class AAA.
The idea of a “stopper” in a big-league rotation is old and quaint. Mathematically, the order in which games are won and lost rarely matters. But in the clubhouse, there is a notion of momentum that has nothing to do with numbers.
Last year, the Twins didn’t eliminate themselves from the playoffs until late in the season, but they felt as if they had eliminated themselves before the calendar flipped to May.
Maybe a loss on Thursday night would have proved insignificant over the course of the season, but for a young, hopeful, unproven team, there was tension.
As Santana struggled through the first game, Molitor called his team together in the dugout.
“I think everyone sensed there was a little frustration early, the way things were going,” Molitor said. “It was a sense that there was something hanging around that didn’t feel very good.”
Berrios changed the feeling in the dugout and may be on his way to altering a crucial fact about the Twins, who haven’t drafted and developed an ace since Brad Radke filled that role for them in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Berrios’ reached 95, but it wasn’t the same 95-mph fastball he displayed last season in the majors. That fastball looked straight and hittable.
Berrios’ newfound composure — or confidence, or aggressiveness, or athletic arrogance — is allowing him to throw an easy 95 with movement, and to keep his breaking pitches so low as to be nearly unhittable.
“I feel very proud, very happy about the work I’ve been able to do on the field,” Berrios said. “It shows all the work I did in spring training and in the offseason.”
He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 27 batters he faced. Confidence has enabled command.
“I can tell you guys that I’m 100 percent better in my confidence,” he said.
Berrios is demonstrating why the Twins, and those who know him, never expressed doubts about him. He works out as if he’s trying to start an infomercial. He has multiple quality pitches. And he has learned to dominate each level of the game once he becomes comfortable.
Thursday, he became the first Twin to strike out 11 since Ervin Santana in 2015, and the youngest Twin with at least 10 strikeouts since Francisco Liriano in 2006. No Twin has had more strikeouts in a game since Liriano had 12 in 2012.
Berrios looks like the pitcher the Twins thought he would eventually be.
Molitor looks forward to more nights when he gets jeered for removing Berrios with a two-run lead in the eighth.