ST. LOUIS – Pitching in front of a noisy corps of family and friends from his nearby hometown Tuesday, Jake Odorizzi was a total flop.
Odorizzi made one bad pitch, a first-inning fastball to Jose Martinez that hung a little high in the strike zone, and Martinez planted it on the grass beyond the center-field wall. But then the Twins righthander turned miserly, preventing another Cardinal from reaching third base in his five cruise-control innings, and led the Twins to their fifth consecutive victory and a two-game sweep of the Cardinals, 7-1 at Busch Stadium.
Odorizzi gave up a mere two hits, won his third game of the season and knocked a quarter-run off his ERA down to 3.83, yet was somehow the Twins’ least effective pitcher in this series. Minnesota shut out the National League Central leaders in 17 of the 18 innings played, Monday’s starter Fernando Romero kept his ERA at 0.00, and the Twins’ bullpen — five pitchers over two days — retired 21 of the 22 hitters it faced.
“It’s how you draw it up,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said gratefully. “You try to stay close and add on when you get a lead, and everyone does their job coming out of the bullpen.”
The offense wasn’t bad, either, especially considering St. Louis had its ace, Carlos Martinez, on the mound. The Twins managed only four hits in five innings against the NL’s ERA leader, but took advantage of three errors to score four runs off Martinez — more than he had allowed in his past six starts combined. Eduardo Escobar blasted a two-run homer and Eddie Rosario had two hits and scored three runs. Odorizzi himself contributed a couple of sacrifice bunts.
The Twins are one game behind first-place Cleveland heading into a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels that starts Thursday night. Cleveland beat Milwaukee 6-2 on Wednesday afternoon.
“Now that the weather’s gotten warm, we’re feeling pretty good at the plate,” said Robbie Grossman, who reached base six times in the series and crushed a two-run double to the center-field warning track against Martinez in the fifth inning. “Really, every part of this team has it going now.”
He’s got a point: Whether playing a cellar-dweller or a division leader, facing a minor league call-up or the ace of the staff, night or day, AL or NL foe — whatever the variable, this has been a get-well week for the Twins. A walk-off loss in Chicago last Thursday was a jolt, but since then, the Twins have outscored the White Sox and Cardinals 32-12, including 13-1 in front of all those Odorizzis in Busch Stadium.
The Twins immediately countered Martinez’s first-inning homer with a Rosario single, a Grossman walk and a pitch that hit Mitch Garner, setting up Ehire Adrianza’s game-tying sacrifice fly. They took the lead when Rosario and Garver singled in the fourth inning, with Rosario scoring when left fielder Marcell Ozuna couldn’t cleanly pick up Garver’s hit. In the seventh, Escobar socked a pitch from reliever Tyler Lyons more than 400 feet, his fourth home run in nine days.
Minnesota’s seven runs was its most ever against the Cardinals — right, right, unless you include the 1987 World Series — and the Twins departed for Anaheim only one-half game out of first in the AL Central, after the Indians’ 3-2 loss in Milwaukee.
“It’s nice to get on a good streak on the positive side,” said Odorizzi, who grew up in Highland, Ill., about 20 miles from the Gateway Arch that looms beyond center field. “We went through the negative earlier, and came out on the other side and are playing pretty good baseball. We have the ability to do something special if we continue to play this way.”
Still, the Twins are only 15-17 on the season, so nobody is being fitted for rings. But like Grossman, Odorizzi noted the 80-degree Missouri weather as an important change.
“We got thrown off by the weather. It’s hard to have an All-Star break in April,” he said, referring to their blizzard-induced four days off from April 13-16. “We didn’t play well on [our last] road trip — it really showed in our sloppiness and rustiness. Now that we’ve got that behind us, get to play baseball in normal weather, we get to see what this team can do.”