Sonny Gray released a full-count sweeper to Jo Adell, watched him take a big but futile cut at the tempting pitch and hopped off the mound in celebration, his job done, and done splendidly well, for another day. The veteran righthander, arguably the Twins' best player in 2023, pitched six solid innings, gave up only four hits and never more than one in an inning and gave up just one run.
Naturally, the Twins lost 1-0 to the Angels at Target Field. That's been the team's most inexplicably bizarre habit this year.
Gray was an All-Star this year for a division champion, owns the second-best ERA in the American League and will receive votes for the Cy Young Award, yet the Twins fell to 14-17 when he starts. Saturday marked the fifth time that Gray (8-8) has turned in a quality start and walked away charge with a loss.
"Honestly, I just said in [the clubhouse], 'I think we're just saving them for the postseason,' " Gray said with a shrug. "We've got a lot of meaningful games ahead."
This time, one pitch did him in, a first-pitch bottom-of-the-zone sinker in the fourth inning that Adell golfed into the Angels bullpen in left-center, only the eighth home run that Gray has allowed in 180 innings this year. The rest of the time, as he has been most of the season, Gray was at his best when it mattered most, twice stranding Angels baserunners in scoring position.
With a hangover lineup behind him — it's a baseball tradition that the night after a raucous champagne-and-beer party for clinching a division title, the team's regulars get the day off — one run was enough to sink Gray, despite his eight strikeouts and no walks.
"Those stick with [pitchers] a little bit because you never enjoy seeing your name next to the L. You wonder, what could I have done better?" sympathized fellow All-Star starter Pablo López. "But you go back and look, he's got a 2.80 ERA! He should have 16 wins, something like that. But you can only control the process, not the outcome, and Sonny is so good at turning the page."
He might soon turn the page on a lot of things. It's possible that Saturday's loss was the 33-year-old's final regular-season start for the Twins at Target Field. Gray's three-year contract, which pays him $12 million this season, expires after next month's playoff run, however long, and Gray could walk away for a bigger paycheck elsewhere.
"It crossed my mind for a second" on Saturday, Gray acknowledged. "I've thought about it, just briefly."
Also crossing his mind: Reaching 180 innings added a fourth $100,000 incentive bonus to his paycheck. "I knew that," Gray said, breaking into a broad smile.
While Gray and the Twins bullpen were all but shutting out the Angels, Los Angeles' pitching staff actually completed the task against the Twins, handing them their first 1-0 loss since the season's first week. The Twins managed only five hits and none at all in the final four. Rookie lefthander Kenny Rosenberg loaded the bases in the first inning by walking a pair of Twins around Kyle Farmer's single, but he retired Matt Wallner on a fly ball to left to get out of trouble.
No other Twins batter ever reached second base against Rosenberg, or any of the four relievers who followed, and the Twins (82-73) suffered a classic day-after loss that all but eliminated the chance that they might still earn the AL's No. 2 playoff seed and the first-round bye that comes with it.
"I tried to just enjoy everything that I could yesterday and last night but also know that, for me, I had a job to do today," Gray said. "Little tired, not going to lie. But I think we'll get some rest, we'll get reenergized and get back to baseball."