NEW YORK – Big Mike was back. And he wanted to prove that he was all the way back.
Michael Pineda’s nickname is Big Mike, and Sunday he pitched at Yankee Stadium for the first time since the 2017 season, one that ended with him having Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
“I felt excited,” said Pineda, who signed with the Twins before the 2018 season, “but I tried to control my emotions and focus on my game; make good pitches. That was my focus today.”
Pineda might have been able to control his emotions better than some of his pitches — because the Yankees bashed a few of his mistakes, enough for New York to carve out a rain-shortened 4-1 victory to take the rubber game of the three-game series.
The Twins had a couple of chances to tie the score late, but Max Kepler struck out against Tommy Kahnle with two runners on to end the seventh, then Marwin Gonzalez fanned on a changeup from Aroldis Chapman to strike out with two on in the eighth.
That was the Twins’ last plate appearance. Storms hit during the start of the bottom of the inning, and the game was declared over following a delay of 61 minutes, a wet conclusion to the Twins’ 15th loss in their past 17 games at Yankee Stadium.
New York’s Domingo German went 6⅔ innings to improve to 6-1, tying for the major league lead in victories.
“We weren’t able to score the runs today,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “but we gave ourselves the opportunity to still be in the game, late in the game against a good team on a day where we probably didn’t make things happen and swing the bats as well as we have.”
In five innings, Pineda (2-3) gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and three walks. He notched three strikeouts in the first inning and had seven through three.
But Pineda loaded the bases in the second inning on a single to Gleyber Torres and walks to Brett Gardner and Cameron Maybin. D.J. LeMahieu sent a sharp grounder up the middle. Shortstop Jorge Polanco scooped it up but muscled a throw to first to try. The ball got past C.J. Cron, which enabled the second run to score.
Marwin Gonzalez’s RBI single in the fourth inning got the Twins on the board, but Pineda made another mistake in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs and Gio Urshela on first base, Pineda ran the count full to No. 9 hitter Michael Tauchman, who began the day batting .167. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Pineda piped a 92 miles-per-hour fastball over the plate, and Tauchman blasted it into the right-field seats for a two-run homer and 4-1 lead.
“It was a 3-2 count,” Pineda said, “so I had to throw a fastball down the middle because I don’t want to get a walk.”
Pineda, however, felt positive about some things as he assessed his afternoon.
He entered the game with a 9.64 ERA over his previous three starts, so this outing was an improvement. He struck out eight of the 23 batters he faced — getting 18 swings and misses along the way — so something was working.
“I know he wanted a couple pitches back,” catcher Jason Castro said, “but definitely trending in the right direction.”
Now it’s a matter of building off the things Pineda liked about his outing, as he struggles to find his form in his first year back from surgery.
“I feel pretty good, especially my command, and my slider today is working a little bit better,” he said. “But I really wanted to win the game. Today, I didn’t win the game, so I don’t feel too happy because I’m the kind of pitcher that, every five days, I want to help my team win games.”