Teammates waited for Martin Perez by the dugout entrance as he walked off the mound following the end of the eighth inning on Wednesday. Fans rose to their feet and cheered. And Perez, his back being slapped by his fellow Twins, returned their applause.
But, after subduing the Astros offense for eight innings, didn’t he want a chance to throw the Twins’ first nine-inning shutout since Jose Berrios on Opening Day of last season?
“Yeah,” he said. “When you go out there you want to pitch nine innings. But I understand it’s early. If you want to save a couple of pitches for September, October, why not?”
In what was his most impressive start with his new team, Perez led the Twins to a 6-2 victory by grounding a dangerous Astros offense. He threw a hard-to-square-up fastball that reached 97 mph as well as a cut fastball that tunneled in on the righthanded lineup. Houston swung early and often but had just three hits through seven innings.
In eight innings, a season high by a Twins starter, Perez held Houston to four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. And he needed just 100 pitches to do so. He was the first Twins pitcher to have an eight-inning outing since Kyle Gibson on July 26 at Boston. At 4-0, he joins Berrios as four-game winners on the club.
“They got me pretty good in the last two years,” said Perez, who gave up 16 earned runs over 30 innings vs. Houston between 2016 and 2017. “Today I just came to the stadium, and when I woke up, I just said, ‘I need to stay focused and we need this game.’ I know the team needed me to do my job today. I did what I had to do and believed I would throw the pitch where I wanted it. Just hit the glove. And it was an amazing game.”
Houston scored twice in the ninth to avoid a second shutout this series. The Twins send Berrios to the mound on Thursday afternoon with a chance to win the four-game series.
Houston might feel relieved.
The Astros entered Wednesday 6-1 against lefthanded starters, including wins over defending American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell and James Paxton, and sent an all-righthanded lineup after Perez. After getting out of a two-on, no-out jam in the first, Perez settled in and dominated.
He retired eight of the next nine Astros hitters he faced. Houston went from one out in the third inning to one out in the sixth without giving up a hit.
“I mean that was a pretty spectacular start from Martin Perez all the way around,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
“The stuff was exceptional; it was there from the beginning of the game ’til his last pitch.”
Offensively, the Twins saw Jonathan Schoop hit the 1,500th home run in Target Field history, a two-run shot into the third deck in left that was estimated at 465 feet, to open the scoring in the third. Byron Buxton scored later in the inning as Astros righthander Collin McHugh, who fell to 3-3, threw wildly to home plate.
Nelson Cruz added a sacrifice fly in the fifth and a two-out RBI single in the eighth to make it 5-0. C.J. Cron then added a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Afterward, Perez sounded as if he’s finally had the outing he’s been seeking.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “Right now, I’m good and I’m just going to go out there every five days and give a chance to my team to win the game.”