Jose Berrios took the mound for the eighth inning on Monday night and got one out before manager Rocco Baldelli came out to replace him.
It was the first time Berrios had pitched more than seven innings since June 28, a key development for the Twins as he attempts to put a disastrous month of August behind him. The announced crowd of 21,850 at Target Field gave him a standing ovation as he left the field, and Berrios raised his right thumb in response as he headed to the dugout.
He could have been indicating his approval for their support — or for how he’s feeling on the mound again.
Berrios gave up a run in each of the first two innings Monday, but he settled in and chewed through the White Sox batting order for the next 5⅓ innings in leading the Twins to a 5-3 victory to open their final homestand of the regular season.
“I am where I want to be right now,” Berrios said. “Keep building off that and hopefully do great things moving forward.”
Winning gave the Twins a five-game lead over Cleveland, which was idle, in the American League Central. The "magic number" -- the combination of Twins victories and Cleveland losses need to clinch the division title -- was reduced to eight.
Berrios (13-8) had a 7.57 ERA in August, raising concerns about a pattern of fading in the second half as well as worries that the most talented member of the starting rotation was not going to be at his best. What was equally troubling was that Berrios’ fastball, frequently in the mid-90s, was 2-3 miles per hour slower last month.
The two-time All-Star has put those fears to rest over his past two starts, in which he given up two earned runs over 14⅔ innings with three walks and 12 strikeouts. On Monday, his four-seam fastball averaged 94.1 mph, topping out at 95.4, which is where his fastball normally sits.
The Twins have given him an extra day of rest before each of his past two starts, which might be helping as well; he had originally been scheduled to pitch on Sunday in Cleveland, but the Twins pushed him back a day after their doubleheader sweep Saturday. On Monday, Berrios also revealed that he has altered his postgame routine over the past three weeks, getting soft tissue massages from the training staff that are providing instant results. Before, he used to work on his own.
“Every outing I’m feeling better and better,” Berrios said. “My arm was feeling great today. I was feeling great overall and my pitches were working good for me.”
The Twins used four singles and a sacrifice fly against Reynaldo Lopez (9-14) in the second inning to tie the score, got a two-out RBI double from Mitch Garver in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead, then added some breathing room in the sixth inning when Luis Arraez added a cueball two-run single that curled around third baseman Yoan Moncada. Eloy Jimenez led off the ninth inning with a homer off Sergio Romo, but Tyler Rogers recorded the final two outs for his 27th save.
Chicago opened against Berrios with a single by Leury Garcia, a double by Moncada and a sacrifice fly by Jose Abreu. James McCann jumped on a first-pitch breaking ball in the second inning for a home run, putting the White Sox ahead 2-0. Four of McCann’s eight hits off Berrios are home runs.
But Berrios put up the stop sign right there. He didn’t give up another hit until the sixth inning, walking two and striking out four during that time. He elicited 16 swing-and-misses from White Sox batters, throwing as many fastballs (28) as curveballs (28). It tied for the third-most swing-and-misses in a game this season.
Garver, behind the plate to catch Berrios, was particularly impressed with a curveball thrown to Ryan Goins in the sixth.
“[That was] probably the best breaking ball he’s thrown in his life,” Garver said. “I wish he would throw that one over and over again. Whatever he did there, just bottle that up.”