'Special one': Albers turns back clock in win

August 28th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- took the Target Field mound on Friday night and decided to party like it’s 2013.

That was when the left-hander from Saskatchewan made one of the splashiest debuts in Twins history with 8 1/3 shutout frames, becoming the first Minnesota starter to throw more than seven scoreless innings in his big league debut. A little more than eight years later, he didn’t make it quite that far into the game, but 5 1/3 scoreless innings in Albers’ first MLB start since 2017 still proved a sorely needed outing for Minnesota in a 2-0 win over the Brewers.

In fact, when Albers earned a win thanks to a shutout bullpen effort from Jorge Alcala, Danny Coulombe, Tyler Duffey and Alex Colomé, he also earned a spot in Twins history. Before Friday night, his last win with the Twins had been on Aug. 12, 2013, and the span of eight years and 15 days since that victory marked the second-longest between wins in club history (since 1961) and the sixth-longest in Twins/Senators franchise history.

“I think the journey that I’ve been on the last few years, or over the last eight years, I guess you can say, I played in a lot of different ballparks, got to take the mound in a lot of different places,” Albers said. “It was fun to come back here and, obviously, there’s familiarity here and I was a little bit excited or anxious before the game.”

The Twins’ offense made noise throughout the evening against left-hander Eric Lauer and the Brewers' pitching staff, but the only runs crossed home plate on a two-run blast by Josh Donaldson in the first inning, his fourth homer in his last six games as his hamstring continues to heal to the point where he can return to third base.

The Twins entered the night having allowed 29 runs in three games to the Red Sox, with six or more runs given up in seven straight games, one shy of matching the longest such span in club history. Next on the schedule came Milwaukee, which entered the series having scored the third-most runs in the Majors since the All-Star break.

But in the Brewers’ way stood Albers, a month shy of his 36th birthday, the first player in club history to spend three separate stints with the Twins. Following three seasons in Japan, Albers made a triumphant return to his old home park by scattering three singles in his 88-pitch outing, in which he wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning but otherwise stifled the Milwaukee offense with a heavy diet of sinkers, sliders and four-seamers that never topped 90.9 mph.

“He's just a guy that needs an opportunity to pitch, and you saw tonight, it doesn't matter if it's 88, 89 [mph],” Duffey said. “He's going to get inside on people, he's going to punch out some guys and get a bunch of weak contact, and he works really quick.”

The journey that Albers mentioned had its start in 2013, when his last Twins win was a complete-game shutout that capped a 17 1/3 scoreless inning streak in his first two big league appearances, the longest in club history to begin a career. After bouncing to Korea in 2014 and the Blue Jays in ‘15, he came back to the Twins in ‘16 and hopped to the Atlanta and Seattle organizations in ‘17 -- the last time he pitched in the big leagues before this season.

Then came the three years in Japan and the Minor League deal to bring him back to the Twins’ organization for a third time this season -- and, well, here he was, helping the Twins weather a brutal stretch for the starting rotation in which trades, underperformance and injuries have wiped out all five members of Minnesota’s starting rotation, leaving the club scrambling to fill innings.

In striking out two, walking one and hitting a batter in his 5 1/3 frames, Albers more than just filled those innings; armed with what he described as better secondary offerings than in his last go-around with Minnesota, his second outing of 2021 went even better than his first -- and considering the state of the rotation, there might be more to come.

“That's a pretty special one,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That's a pretty different, unique situation that you really have to hand to him. The ability to just keep pushing and plugging away. I'm sure there are many moments where he wasn't sure what the future was going to hold or if he would be pitching much more.

“The way he acts on a daily basis, the way he does his thing, nothing seems to really get in his way. He's an optimistic guy. He's really willing to work and he's worked his way right back into a Major League rotation.”