The Twins had lost nine of 10 games on merit, and the skepticism as they started a weekend series against Pittsburgh was wide-ranging. Among the questions taking place on this cold Friday night at Target Field included the following:
• A flier for $8 million had been taken on 38-year-old lefthander J.A. Happ to fill out the rotation. After a pair of labored starts, there was mild concern among the locals that these could be millions as ill-spent as those tossed by the front office at another veteran, Homer Bailey, in the starter search for 2020.
OK, that's an exaggeration, since Bailey totaled eight innings in two starts before calling it a mini-season. Happ exceeded that with 8⅔ innings in his first two starts, although with a requirement to throw a combined 176 pitches to get those 26 outs.
The second of those starts was on April 13. The Twins ran into the COVID mess in Anaheim and wound up passing on Happ's turn, thus giving him Twins start No. 3 on nine days of rest.
• There were remarks made on Twitter — and, admittedly, on a local AM sports station — as to why Jake Cave had become an irreplaceable force in the Twins lineup?
Remarkably, the lefthanded-hitting Cave was in his fourth Twins season since being acquired in March 2018. That came after being designated for assignment by the Yankees.
Cave spent the majorities of the 2018 and '19 seasons with the Twins rather than Class AAA Rochester, and then was in Minnesota on the 28-player pandemic roster for the entirety of the 2020 season.
He batted .221 with a sizable strikeout rate. There was a thought that a healthy Byron Buxton and rookie Alex Kirilloff could cost Cave a job for 2021.
That thought wasn't being expressed by the Twins. Every hint at a roster projection from the club in spring training included Cave as an extra outfielder.
Then, a pair of small injuries to Buxton and Kirilloff's assignment to the reserve troop in St. Paul, followed by COVID restrictions for outfielders Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick, turned Cave into a Twins ironman.
He was in right field and batting eighth in Friday's lineup — his 13th start and an appearance in all 18 Twins games. This was occurring despite the fact Cave was batting .122, with a horrific 21 strikeouts in 49 at-bats.
Kirilloff was also in the lineup, playing left field, which could affect Cave's ironman status.
Happ found himself in a pitching showdown with J.T. Brubaker, a Pirates righthander with a 1.76 ERA in three starts.
The Twins lefty carried a no-hitter into the eighth and came away with a 2-0 victory. Cave provided the second run, with a home run just above the left-field wall in the fifth.
It is in baseball situations such as this when we flash back to the seventh game of the 1985 World Series, when the late, great Joaquin Andujar, the St. Louis starter, was ejected in a raucous first inning in Kansas City, and his quote was:
"Youneverknow," as a single word.
That has remained my motto for individual big-league ballgames. Youneverknow.
Happ had a couple of 3-2 counts early on, and then started pitching with such efficiency manager Rocco Baldelli insisted that he was ready to give him a shot at the no-hitter.
He had gotten one out in the eighth, with his pitch count just reaching 90, when catcher Jacob Stallings doubled into left field. Stallings came to the plate 0-for-19 before breaking up the no-hitter.
Once that ball landed, Baldelli was signaling to Tyler Duffey. He retired three of four hitters. Taylor Rogers came in to get the final two outs for his first save of 2021.
Considering comments from Twins baseball CEO Derek Falvey on Thursday, after the 13-12 disaster in Oakland the day before, it could be Rogers trying to finish wins more often than newcomer Alexander Colome, so far 2-for-5 in save opportunities.
The Twins were badly in need of this clean game, after the combination of shutouts, blowouts and debacles, and failures to pitch, hit, field and pass COVID tests, while going 0-4 in California.
"That's exactly what you're looking for," said Baldelli, mainly concerning Happ's pitching but also a crisp game. "… We needed an effort like this."
With upsets and youneverknows all around:
Happ's increasingly efficient pitching, Cave's first home run, two innings after Willians Astudillo's first homer on a pitch high enough to hit "the screen," Baldelli said.
All of that, and then the biggest upset of all in MLB 2021.
Time of game: 2 hours, 17 minutes.