CLEVELAND – One Twins pitcher had a moment to remember on Saturday, freezing a hitter with a perfect breaking ball for strike three, working out of a jam with minimal trouble, earning backslaps, high-fives and big smiles from his teammates when he returned to the dugout.
Shane Robinson always dreamed it would be like this. Paul Molitor feared that it would.
At a time when the Twins are carrying nine relief pitchers on their 25-man roster, they still didn’t have enough Saturday, resorting to a backup outfielder for an inning of work in an embarrassing 17-4 loss to the Indians. “Players have fun with it to some degree, but it’s not fun for me,” Molitor said after the Twins lost for the 11th time in 14 games. “It’s not what you want to do.”
But it’s what Robinson has wanted to do for years, since he pitched in Little League back in Tampa Bay. “I can scratch it off my bucket list now,” said Robinson, who despite occasional lobbying had never pitched in the intervening two decades.
He only got a chance Saturday because Ervin Santana was somehow even more ineffective than his fellow starters have been on this slog through Toronto and Cleveland, giving up 10 hits and eight runs while recording only seven outs. And because the exhausted-by-overwork bullpen was even worse, with five unlucky contestants surrendering nine more runs over five innings. Ryan O’Rourke and A.J. Achter didn’t retire a batter, Blaine Boyer served up a pinch-hit grand slam, and the Twins gave up at least nine runs for the fourth consecutive game, a first since 2003.
Starting pitching, a relative strength for three months, has collapsed on this trip; none has lasted five innings since Tuesday, and they’ve been belted around for 35 runs in 24 ⅓ innings, a 12.95 ERA.
So maybe it was helpful that Robinson gave the Twins a moment to enjoy, and the Twins gave Robinson a night he’ll never forget. He entered in the eighth, with bases loaded and the Twins trailing by 11, and did better than Molitor could have expected, throwing 14 pitches, seven for strikes. Throwing nothing but low-80s fastballs because he was petrified of throwing a wild pitch or giving up “something that could be crushed,” yet full of nervous energy, Robinson walked in a run. “A big taboo,” he said. “Walks will haunt.”
Then came a couple of outs, a run-scoring grounder and a fly ball too shallow to score a run (or perhaps the Indians were being gracious).
And finally, Robinson’s tour de force: With Jerry Sands, who clubbed a pinch-hit grand slam in the fifth inning, at the plate, he got ahead in the count 1-and-2, and used his secret weapon: a knuckleball that he pesters teammates with in the outfield on a daily basis.
He had wanted to use it throughout his inning but was talked out of it. “I asked Herm [catcher Chris Herrmann], ‘Are you OK with me throwing the knuckleball?’ He kind of looked around and said, ‘Eh, I don’t know with the bases loaded,’ ” Robinson said. “I was like, ‘Good point.’ ”
But with two strikes and two outs?
“I knew I was going to throw it, and I perspired it. Herm gave me the sign, and I was quick with it, like I was throwing my regular fastball,” the outfielder said. “And I froze him.”
He got the game ball as a souvenir, and the congratulations of his teammates. On an otherwise miserable night, Robinson managed to lighten the mood.