The Twins' search for the old Kenta Maeda came to the right place: 60 feet, 6 inches from Texas Rangers hitters.
Maeda, whose strikeout rate fell to a career low in April, rediscovered his third-strike talent against the whiffingest team in the west on Monday, and rode those swings-and-misses to his first win in nearly a month, 6-5 over Texas at chilly Target Field.
OK, if not for some shoddy defense by the Rangers' outfield, it might not have mattered, not after the Twins' bullpen surrendered five runs in the final two innings. But after losing six of their first eight one-run games in relentlessly painful style, maybe the Twins were due for just enough luck to be on their side.
Oh, wait — this is more how the Twins' luck works lately. Even in a game they won, they may have lost a critical component. Leadoff hitter Luis Arraez collided with Rangers catcher Jose Trevino while scoring from first on Josh Donaldson's double in the third inning, and later felt neck soreness and a headache that forced the Twins to put him into concussion protocol. His symptoms figure to take a day or two, or more, to resolve.
But Maeda, his ERA inflated to 6.56 in April, was certainly due for a start that resembled his 2020 success, and he finally found one. After averaging only four strikeouts per start in the season's first month, the Twins' Opening Day starter doubled that output Monday, and left in the sixth without allowing a run.
"It's hard to get strikeouts when I'm not having all my pitches, but tonight was good," Maeda said after beating Texas for the first time in his career. "After getting two strikes, I was able to put them down with swings and misses. There are a lot of positives to take from tonight."
Especially when it mattered. Twice the Rangers put runners on third base with two outs, and both times he snuffed any potential rally with a smart ploy: Keep the ball low until there were two strikes, then blow a high fastball past the hitter to end the inning, a strategy that claimed Charlie Culberson in the second inning, and MLB strikeout leader Joey Gallo in the third.
"It was really huge to get strikeouts with the fastball up," said Maeda, who retired the final eight hitters he faced. "Having that thought in the hitters' minds when I face them for the second round and third round, then I can work my off-speed off the fastball. Everything worked out and I was glad."
Maybe a little glad, too, that he was facing the Rangers, whose 305 whiffs entering the game led the major leagues. Maeda's eight strikeouts represented a return to the pattern he established in 2020, when the Cy Young runner-up collected at least seven strikeouts in seven of his 11 starts — a level he had yet to hit in 2021.
The Twins' offense did the rest — with plenty of help from mistakes by each of the Rangers' three outfielders.
Alex Kirilloff doubled twice and scored both times, each courtesy of some awful outfielding. In the second inning, Kirilloff scored the game's first run when Gallo caught a fly ball in deep right field, then sailed a throw, after Kirilloff tagged up, over Culberson's head at third base. The ball rolled harmlessly along the front of the dugout as Kirilloff hustled home on the error.
Four innings later, Kirilloff greeted Rangers reliever Kolby Allard with a two-out double to left field. Moments later, he jogged home when center fielder Adolis Garcia caught up to Jorge Polanco's warning-track fly ball but allowed it to bounce off the heel of his glove, an embarrassing misplay that was credited to Polanco as a triple.
The Twins added an insurance run on another poorly played hit — left fielder David Dahl failed to cut off Polanco's line-drive double, allowing Kirilloff to score from first — and it's a good thing, since Brandon Waddell, Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers combined to allow five hits, including home runs by Garcia and Gallo, and five runs in the final two innings.
Baldelli understandably focused on the Twins' hitting.
"A very steady flow of hard-hit balls really showed up for us tonight, throughout the game, and that's what we want to see," he said. "I like what we saw tonight."