MIAMI – It was a signature performance that might have ended too soon.
Jose Berrios had thrown 81 pitches through seven innings, retiring the side in order in six of those. He had amassed 11 strikeouts, a season high and one shy of his career record set last season against the Rangers. The night was set up for Berrios to notch the Twins’ first complete-game shutout of the season.
He never got the chance.
Nelson Cruz batted for Berrios in the eighth, and righthander Sean Poppen took over in the bottom of the inning. After pitching a scoreless eighth, Poppen gave up three consecutive singles and a grand slam to the Marlins’ Brian Anderson. The Twins won 7-4, but closer Taylor Rogers had to get the final two outs.
“I think everybody felt good, I know I felt good, getting him out of the game right there,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of replacing Berrios. “We were in a good spot. We were in a good situation at that point. It was because of his effort.
“We have actually ridden him pretty good the last couple of starts. He’s gone out there and has given us innings and thrown a fair amount of pitches.”
Berrios, who threw 106 and 113 pitches in his previous two starts, said he felt fine after seven innings.
“I think I could keep going, trying to do the same thing, just locating my pitches,” Berrios said, “but in the eighth inning, I had an at-bat coming up, so Rocco said they’re going to put in Nelson Cruz.”
And he was fine with that?
“Yeah, I respect what they say,” Berrios said.
The announced crowd of 8,567 included 16 of Berrios’ friends and family. And he put on a show for them, opening with four perfect innings before exiting after seven after holding the Marlins to two hits while striking out 11.
Berrios was pitching like a boss, and if there was ever a game set up for him to take a run at a complete-game shutout, Wednesday was it. But Baldelli’s mantra is to keep his players from overuse, and it has helped the 66-41 Twins to a three-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central. And they have done so while being one of 11 teams to not have thrown a complete game yet this season.
“The other thing is being a National League game and him being on the field and running around the entire game, it’s different than what we’re used to,” Baldelli said. “Instead of sitting there and regrouping in between innings, he’s out there and having several at-bats and even on the bases. There’s a lot of adrenaline and I’m sure it takes a little time to catch up from that.”
Mitch Garver broke an 0-for-17 skid in the third with a three-run homer. Max Kepler led off the four-run fifth with his 29th homer of the season. Eddie Rosario hit a two-run shot, then Jonathan Schoop added an RBI single as the Twins took a 7-0 lead.
Berrios struck out six Marlins the first time through the order. Neil Walker ended the perfect game in the fifth with an infield hit, which Berrios fielded near the third-base line but threw high to Marwin Gonzalez at first. Starlin Castro followed with a bloop single to center before Berrios retired nine in a row, five by strikeout.
“Some of the best stuff I’ve seen out of him,” said Garver, who thought about a no-hitter in the fourth. “I’ve said that a couple of times now already.”