KANSAS CITY, MO. – Next stop: Yankee Stadium. Or next start, if you prefer.
That’s not official, of course, since the Twins won’t announce their playoff rotation for several days. But Jose Berrios pitched like a Game 1 starter Friday night, delivering a performance that the Twins would like to see repeated in the Bronx in one week.
The two-time All-Star lived up to that billing in his final regular-season start of 2019, limiting the Royals to two runs over six innings, striking out nine, and leading the Twins to a 6-2 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium shortened to 6½ innings by a heavy thunderstorm.
“I ended the regular season on the high end, on a good note,” said Berrios, who whooped with satisfaction as he walked off the mound after blowing a fastball past Meibrys Viloria for his final out of his night. “It’s all about getting prepared for the playoffs now, and [being] ready for my team.”
The victory was Berrios’ 14th of the season — but also the Twins’ 100th, only the second time in franchise history they have reached triple digits. Only the 1965 Twins, who went 102-60 en route to the World Series, recorded more victories, a record still within reach for the 2019 squad, which has won five consecutive games with two more to play.
“In a season full of really cool and exciting times and accomplishments, this was another one that was really, really nice,” said manager Rocco Baldelli, who was awarded the game ball by his staff in a postgame team meeting. “You don’t get to this point and have this much success without a wonderful group, through and through.”
Or, in the case of this team, without the requisite outburst of home runs. Miguel Sano singled and homered in his first career start as a leadoff hitter, and Ryan LaMarre connected for his second home run since rejoining the Twins this month. But though the Twins’ 302nd and 303rd homers extended the franchise record, they no longer hold, at least for now, the major league record. In Texas, the Yankees pounded out six more homers, giving them 305 for the season.
“That’s not something that’s going to be overly upsetting to anyone. I’ll check with [hitting coaches] JoRo [James Rowson] and Rudy [Hernandez] and make sure they’re going to be OK,” Baldelli joked. “But what else can we ask for? We clinch a spot in the playoffs and yet our guys still have gone out there and locked in and performed very well.”
Besides, the star of the night, and one of the best signs the Twins could receive about their postseason chances, came in the form of the 25-year-old righthander who achieved a milestone of his own.
Pitching quickly in order to make the game official before the rain arrived, Berrios gave up a first-inning run only after an outfield mixup turned a catchable fly ball into a double, then another run in the fifth after a Whit Merrifield triple. Berrios threw 88 pitches over his first five innings, averaging 96.2 mph with his fastball.
In most late September starts, that might have been enough, but Baldelli allowed Berrios to pitch a sixth inning, too — for good reason. A forceout at second base for the second out of the inning fulfilled one of his preseason goals: a 200-inning season.
“Every great athlete prepares themselves to do great things, and that was one of my goals this year,” said Berrios, who has apparently shaken off an August slump by posting a 3.08 ERA over his past four starts and finishes with a 14-8 record, a 3.68 ERA and 195 strikeouts, his best season so far. “Every good pitcher wants to throw at least 200 innings a season, and I accomplished that today.”