Gray, gloomy clouds hung over Target Field on Saturday, a fitting snapshot for a stunning development that dropped on the Twins’ heads like an anvil smack dab in a pennant race.
Michael Pineda’s feel-good comeback story screeched to a halt with news that he tested positive for a banned substance and will miss the rest of the season, playoffs included, while serving a 60-game suspension.
Good grief, Big Mike.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said reliever Sergio Romo, who is never at a loss for words. “It’s hard to believe. It does leave you speechless.”
Flabbergasted is more like it considering the timing, the stupidity of the act and the potential ramifications.
Pineda has been the Twins’ most consistent and most reliable starter since July. His surge combined with Jose Berrios’ swoon raised legitimate questions about which starter should get the ball in Game 1 of the playoffs.
That’s the root of frustration with his suspension. The Twins are fully capable of finishing off this pennant face without Pineda, but can they win a playoff series without him? His absence puts even more pressure on their long-ball lineup to smash home runs if they hope to contend in October.
Baldelli’s Bashers have displayed resilience all season when hit with adversity, and they showed their grit again Saturday night with a 5-3 victory over Cleveland to restore their AL Central lead to 6½ games.
Mature response to a difficult day. Now they must figure out how to fill a big hole.
Let’s pause to reflect on the state of the starting staff at present: Berrios … slumping; Jake Odorizzi … better lately after an uneven stretch; Kyle Gibson … sidelined with ulcerative colitis but expected back soon; Martin Perez … wildly inconsistent.
And now Pineda is gone.
“Definitely a big loss for us,” slugger Nelson Cruz said. “Somebody has to step up for him.”
Who? Manager Rocco Baldelli wasn’t ready to announce a plan — if the organization has formulated one yet — shortly after the suspension became public.
Bad news is starting to pile up as the Twins try to bury Cleveland. Byron Buxton’s shoulder; Cruz’s wrist; Sam Dyson’s bicep; Berrios’ struggles; Marwin Gonzalez’s oblique.
Major League Baseball suspended Pineda after he tested positive for a diuretic that also can be used as a masking agent for PEDs. The suspension was reduced from 80 games to 60 by an arbitrator based on Pineda’s appeal.
At this point, his reason for taking the diuretic doesn’t really matter, whether he used it to lose weight (as he claims) or to mask PEDs. All that matters is that Pineda’s recklessness severely impacts his team by weakening an already shaky rotation.
Pineda released a statement saying that he “mistakenly took a medication that was given to me by a close acquaintance, who obtained it over-the-counter and assured me it would safely help me manage my weight.”
Uff da. That explanation makes him testing positive look even worse. He asked a friend for medical advice? And weren’t the Twins monitoring his weight?
These suspensions are maddening because professional athletes have every resource imaginable to guide them in determining which substances they ingest. Even if Pineda wasn’t trying to mask performance-enhancing drugs (which nobody other than him knows for sure), his actions are still inexcusable.
Athletes are responsible for everything they put into their body. End of story. Pleading ignorance isn’t an acceptable defense.
Here’s a novel idea: Rather than trust an acquaintance, check with someone on the Twins medical staff. Call Major League Baseball. Ask questions.
Pineda isn’t a rookie who maybe doesn’t understand how things work yet. (Even that isn’t an excuse.) He’s a 30-year-old veteran.
Pineda’s final start Friday was another strong outing, holding Cleveland to one run on four hits with 10 strikeouts in six innings. He received a loud ovation as he walked off the field.
The hammer dropped less than 24 hours later, leaving his employer in scramble mode.
“This just creates opportunities for somebody else,” Romo said. “Next in line, let’s go.”