Jake Odorizzi wanted the ball in Yankee Stadium. He deserved it. He took the mound in Game 3 instead. He deserved better than he got.
A Twins pitcher finally rose to the occasion against their postseason boogeyman, but Odorizzi’s offense and defense didn’t match his performance in a season-ending 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees at Target Field.
A three-game sweep in the ALDS extended the Twins’ MLB-record postseason losing streak to 16 consecutive games.
Nobody can fault starting pitching for the clincher.
“I gave it everything I had,” Odorizzi said. “I knew I had to be as close to perfect as I could be just to give us the best chance at winning. I was really close to doing it.”
Odorizzi supplied five solid innings that would have looked better if not for a defensive misplay and a solo home run that cleared the wall by inches.
Odorizzi’s final line: Two runs allowed on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks. Rocco Baldelli pulled Odorizzi after 82 pitches in favor of closer Taylor Rogers in the sixth inning, a decision that underscored the Twins’ now-or-never desperation.
Fans can quibble about whether Baldelli should have stayed with Odorizzi for one more inning with his pitch count at a reasonable number. The fact that the team’s most reliable starter had to wait so long to pitch in the series invites far more scrutiny and discussion.
Baldelli gambled by saving Odorizzi for Game 3 because he didn’t like the odds of a flyball pitcher facing the Yankees’ powerful lineup in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.
Baldelli’s choice of rookie Randy Dobnak over Odorizzi in a disastrous Game 2 will be debated for some time. Odorizzi was the Twins’ most consistent starter this season and he has veteran’s experience in his favor.
Baldelli — presumably with the front office’s collaboration — chose inconsistent Jose Berrios and sinkerballer Dobnak in the first two games on the road. Of course, the outcome might not have been any different because the Yankees proved without any doubt that they are far superior regardless of circumstances.
Odorizzi didn’t criticize Baldelli’s decision when he met with reporters a day before his Game 3 start, but he noted that “I’ve pitched [in Yankee Stadium] a lot more than other people.”
A free agent this offseason, Odorizzi should be a priority as the Falvine regime reconstructs the pitching staff. Odorizzi displayed big-stage fortitude Monday in giving his team a chance to stave off elimination. He overcame some trying moments that could have left him flustered.
In the first inning, Aaron Judge flew out to right field, but he was awarded first base on a catcher’s interference call on Mitch Garver. Next batter, a checked swing by Brett Gardner with two strikes looked like it should have been strike three. Odorizzi kept his cool and got out of the inning unscathed.
Odorizzi made his only glaring mistake in the second inning when he hung a breaking ball to Gleyber Torres over the middle of the plate. Torres’ fly ball barely cleared the wall in left center for a solo home run.
Odorizzi’s other run allowed was the product of misadventures by his defense. Left fielder Jake Cave turned a single by Gio Urshela into a double when he unwisely dived for a fly ball that he had zero chance of catching, allowing it to get past him. Wrong time to attempt Superman baseball.
Then, with two outs and Urshela on third, third baseman Miguel Sano shifted to his left several feet at the last second before Gardner hit the ball right to where Sano was previously standing for an RBI single.
“Things like that are going to happen,” Odorizzi said. “I almost got out of it. It was a good pitch, and it was just the wrong spot that we had moved away from.”
Odorizzi kept battling, even as his offense crumbled in the clutch. He gave the Twins what they needed. He was up to the challenge. The offense’s whimper rendered it moot.