There was a time not long ago, in the days before Zoom interviews, and before regional TV representatives were anointed to ask the opening questions in postgame interviews, that a sportswriter could enter into a discussion with a Twins manager such as Ron Gardenhire.
A frequent complaint from Gardy in opening remarks would be that he had to use “his whole bullpen,” at which point a veteran Twin Cities scribe was known to reply:
“Did you really have to use four pitchers for one inning apiece after pulling your starter after five? Why not two relievers for two?”
Yes, that’s one of the 21st-century philosophies of Major League Baseball that can confound a Boomer:
When a reliever has cruised through one inning in a tight ballgame, why not get two innings out of him — particularly when you might avoid needing to use him in the next game anyway?
In Tuesday’s 4-1 loss, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli used his bullpen Gardy-style, as if this were mid-August with a sub-.500 team in a full season, rather than Game 1 in a best-of-three in MLB’s first-ever 16-team tournament.
It took the Twins all the way until the bottom of the first to provide disillusionment with the idea this would be the day to end the horrendous, humiliating, implausible, pathetic 16-game losing streak in playoff competition.
Houston starter Zack Greinke loaded the bases with one out, then Eddie Rosario’s liner went directly to first baseman Yuri Gurriel, and it took long enough for Miguel Sano to chug to first base to get thrown by a skosh on a topper charged by third baseman Alex Bregman. The Twins challenged and the review took 27 seconds, which exceeded Miguel’s elapsed time to first by several seconds.
That made it a 30-pitch scoreless inning for Greinke … hard to do unless it’s against the Twins in the postseason.
Nelson Cruz did drive in a run with a double in the third, and Kenta Maeda carried that 1-0 lead through five innings. The Astros did fine work not chasing Maeda’s outstanding breaking pitches, and he was masterful in figuring out other ways to get them out.
Maeda had thrown 91 pitches. Baldelli and Wes Johnson, pitching coach and co-decisionmaker on such matters, decided not to send their ace out for another inning.
“I did feel myself being under pressure,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “If my pitch count had been lower, I could have gone another inning.”
Basically, this was Maeda saying this is how the Twins do things, not that he was looking for a hook.
Trevor May, back on a solid streak, started cranking in the bullpen and came in for a quick sixth. It took him 11 pitches to cruise through Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman.
The Twins had a total of two hits at that point. Franmal Valdez, a lefty and considered by some to be the Astros’ second-best starter, had entered for Greinke in the fifth. Valdez started with a pair of walks, asked for the mound to be repaired in his landing area, and then blew through Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Cruz.
Lefties devoured Baldelli’s hitters throughout the 60-game mini-season. The idea that the Twins would be required to carry that 1-0 lead to finish line had to be present with the brain trust in the home dugout.
Or maybe not.
Rather than sending out May for the seventh, against not as formidable of a collection of Astros and he’d just faced, apparently was not in the thinking. I mean, we wouldn’t do that against Kansas City in August, so why should we change now?
Tyler Duffey came in for the seventh and gave up a tying run. No argument with Duffey being out there, just an argument about this: If you’ve already used May and Duffey, your two best, by the end of the seventh, what was the plan for the eighth and ninth?
If May goes two, as postseason baseball should have dictated, it was possible to see the finish line. OK, Duffey gave up a run, and Sergio Romo deserved a better outcome in the losing ninth, but using the bullpen without enough urgency to have May pitch two innings when he’s throwing the fire out of the ball (thank you, Gardy) … brutal.
Meantime, Houston manager Dusty Baker, 71 and turned suddenly sly with his postseason pitching, got five innings from Valdez and now has his entire bullpen available with a chance to finish off the Twins on Wednesday.
The Twins are going to have to improve over Tuesday in three areas to avoid that: hitting (almost none), fielding (what was that, Jorge?) and pitching (strategy).
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