HOUSTON — He’s faced Chris Archer and Chris Sale in his last two starts, so of course Tyler Duffey drew a third straight ace, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, for his start today. And this one might be the best of the bunch, at least this year.
The lefthander started the All-Star Game and is one of the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award, and he’s been unbeatable in Minute Maid Park. Keuchel is 12-0 at home this year, and has allowed only one home run in this little ballpark, an amazing run of 17 straight home starts without a home run. Last week he was named AL Pitcher of the Month for the third time this season.
“You can’t concede anything. You stay with your at-bats,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said, offering a pregame scouting report. “As far as your approach, you try to make him get the ball up. He throws strike one a lot, but then he tries to expand the zone, so you have to have the best discipline you can. Generally pulling him is not a very good idea, because he’s just going to get you to roll over with his movement.”
Duffey, though, doesn’t figure to be much concerned about, or even notice, his mound opponent. Today is a day he’s dreamed about much of his life, the day he takes the mound in his hometown in front of dozens, maybe hundreds of friends and acquaintances. Something similar happened to Molitor back in 1978, when he arrived in Minnesota with the Brewers to play for the first time.
“Going to the Met to play, as opposed to all the years we went there with my dad, it was a big deal,” said Molitor, who went 0-for-4 and didn’t hit the ball out of the infield in his July 3, 1978 Minnesota debut. “We had a large contingent there — there’s just something about, you follow a team, you grow up in that environment, you get a chance to go play in the particular park against the team that you cheered for for years and years. It’s a different feel, no doubt about it.”
Molitor said the Twins will try to focus Duffey as best they can, but “there’s just a lot of adrenalin with that. You’ve got to put aside your desire to impress those people and get back to the fact you’re pitching another major-league game. Those things are external, and they can be something that makes it difficult to keep your focus.”
The lineup behind Duffey will include a new left fielder: Aaron Hicks, moving over to the position for the first time since last Sept. 24, and just the seventh time in his career. Hicks took some fly balls out there during batting practice on Friday, and “I really don’t have much apprehension about putting him out there,” Molitor said. “It should be a fairly smooth transition.”
Here are the lineups for the finale, in which the Twins try to win their fourth consecutive series: