There were times when Twins followers couldn't help ourselves, imagining more from Jose Berrios than the exceptional consistency that went with making every start as scheduled from the time he moved into the rotation on Aug. 1, 2016, to his final start last Saturday — seven innings, two unearned runs and a loss.
On first glance, Jose was a physical duplicate of Johan Santana, not tall, but an athlete. Johan exuded that gift from the mound, finally winning a long-deserved Gold Glove in 2007, his sixth full season and last in Minnesota.
Berrios has shown the same magnificence in pouncing on toppers and bunts, although he has yet to receive a Gold Glove. Perhaps that can happen for him now that he has been freed from this dreadful flop that is the 2021 Twins and gets a chance to join a playoff race with Toronto.
They are paid to pitch, of course, which Santana did to the sweet tune of Cy Young Awards in 2004 and '06. No individual was more responsible for the Twins' rise from the depths (1993-2000) to winning four division titles from 2002 to '06.
Greater depths surfaced for much of the 2010s. Berrios made a handful of starts early in 2016 and joined the rotation for the final two months. He was overmatched as the Twins careened to 59-103, an all-time worst record that now faces a challenge.
A season later, in a surprising late surge to a wild card, there were nights when Berrios looked so sharp the notion surfaced that he was the ace for another escape from the depths. He was missing Johan's changeup (as were all pitchers), but still we wanted Berrios, the 6-foot righthander from Puerto Rico, to become the late 2010s version of Santana, the 6-foot lefthander from Venezuela.
I took that plunge enthusiastically on March 28, 2019, the earliest opener at home in Twins history. Berrios was 24 and making his first Opening Day start. He was magnificent, working 7⅔ scoreless innings to defeat Cleveland's two-time Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber.
The score was 2-0 and the time of game was 2:18, which makes you want to weep, right?
This observation was offered in the postgame review:
"Four minutes into Thursday's opener … Berrios had done a couple of things that caused Santana to come to mind.''
Those things were a changeup that had Cleveland's leadoff hitter, Leonys Martin, lunging futilely — followed by Jose Ramirez trying to bunt for a hit against the shift, and Berrios bolting off the mound to throw him out.
The thoughts of the Next Santana were probably the reason Berrios was a target when he ran into the August slumps that seemed to be annual. I offered up one of those broadsides on Aug. 24 that season, after he allowed the lowly Tigers to rally for a victory.
The truth on Berrios, now 27, and his time here was this: He wasn't Johan, but he was an ace.
If you're one of the top 20 starters in the big leagues, always make your starts and are in the 190 to 200 range in innings pitched … you're an ace.
Often, Berrios wasn't properly appreciated by us in the local media, and many hardcore fans. More important, there was appreciation lacking from the current Twins brain trust, which took over full-time in November 2016 with Derek Falvey in charge.
Berrios made 32 starts in 2018, went 12-11 with a 3.84 ERA and pitched 192⅓ innings, second to Kyle Gibson's 196⅓. The Twins signed infielder Jorge Polanco and outfielder Max Kepler to four-year contracts that winter, but didn't get anything done with Berrios.
Berrios made 32 starts again in 2019 and was 14-8 with a 3.68 ERA. He was the workhorse with 200⅓ innings, the highest Twins total by 35 innings, on a team that powered its way to 101 wins.
The Twins' response was to challenge Berrios' request for an extra-large raise to $4.4 million in arbitration. The team beat him with its offer of $4.025 million.
This would become a very hollow victory. The $375,000 savings turned into $138,750 when only 60 games (37% of a full schedule) were played. That was unpredictable; what was not was the pitcher's reaction.
Berrios is an emotional guy. That's my theory as to why his late-summer funks lasted a couple of starts longer than the norm. He couldn't let a bad one go. And he certainly wasn't about to let go an arbitration dispute.
Whatever possibility of getting a contract done at less than top-dollar went away in those negotiations before the 2020 season.
Berrios is only 27. He's headed for 32 starts and close to 200 innings again. There's a big chance the next five seasons are going to be his best — especially if someone in Toronto can get him to refine that changeup.
The Twins gave up an ace for two good prospects Friday. The celebration for this should be modest.