NEW YORK – Jose Berrios said he learned from his first playoff appearance at Yankee Stadium two years ago. He said he was ready for the intensity, ready to pitch in the electric atmosphere, ready to handle the pressure.
Entrusted with the responsibility of putting the Twins on the right path during Game 1 of the ALDS vs. the Yankees, the numbers told the story.
He threw 24 pitches in the first inning.
Then he threw 24 pitches in the second inning.
Then he threw 29 pitches in the third inning, in which New York scored three runs.
Berrios was off the mark. Only 54 of his 88 pitches were strikes, and that 61.3% mark would have been his fourth-lowest strike rate of the regular season. As he was prepared to pitch, he realized that the Yankees are a hard team to attack in their park.
With an inviting porch in right field, routine fly balls become ERA busters. And Berrios wanted to avoid hard contact.
“They look for you to be up, and you see they want to hit homers,” he said after lasting four innings and getting a no-decision in the Twins’ 10-4 loss. “They know this is a little stadium, so they can hit a fly ball and make it a homer. We keep doing our plan and try to execute quality pitches down in the zone and that’s our game.”
The result was lengthy battles that ran his pitch count up.
When Berrios met with reporters Thursday, he was ready to embrace the challenge and distance himself from two years ago, when he gave up three runs in three innings during the AL wild-card game loss to the Bronx Bombers.
Well, he went four innings Friday, giving up three runs, although two of them were unearned when his defense botched a potential inning-ending double play as C.J. Cron failed to catch Luis Arraez’s throw from second.
When D.J. LeMahieu had a seven-pitch at-bat before striking out to lead off the game, it was clear then the Yankees were going to make Berrios work for his outs Friday.
Berrios wiggled out of a first-and-third jam later in the inning, getting a nifty play from third baseman Miguel Sano, who barehanded Giancarlo Stanton’s slow bouncer to throw him out by a hair.
Berrios faced only four batters in the second but threw at least five pitches to all of them. Didi Gregorius saw eight pitches before striking out. Berrios fell behind three of the four batters, not showing the precision needed to neutralize a dangerous lineup.
New York got a bloop single by LeMahieu — just past the reach of Arraez in short right field — and a single to center by Aaron Judge to open the third. Berrios got Brett Gardner to fly out to right, but Encarnacion lasered a 2-1 pitch to left for an RBI double.
Berrios got ahead 1-2 to Stanton but then missed with three consecutive curveballs to walk him. The error came on the next play, as Sano grabbed Gleyber Torres’ grounder and attempted to start an inning-ending double play. But Arraez’s low throw to first got past Cron for an error as two runs scored. There were misplays in the field, but Berrios didn’t make pitches, either.
“We were trying to get his breaking ball to start a strike, and early on they weren’t swinging too much because it just wasn’t starting a strike,” catcher Mitch Garver said, “They never really had a chance to swing at it. Credit to them for taking good at-bats.”
Berrios gave up four hits and walked three while striking out six. Seven batters reaching base in four innings is not good. Throwing 88 pitches over four innings also isn’t good. That only sped up the phone call to the Twins bullpen Friday, and we all saw what happened after that.
The Twins needed two more innings from Berrios, but now they trail 0-1 in the series, which raises the urgency for them to respond in Game 2.
Should he have thrown his curveball up in the zone more, to get the Yankees to swing?
“We don’t want to leave anything hanging and let them hit it out on the field,” Berrios said. “They had a good plan and used it good.”