Odorizzi keeps Yankees in check with fastball

October 8th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- As warmed up in the bullpen before what could’ve been his final start as a Twin, catcher Mitch Garver could tell that the right-hander was already locked in with his fastball.

So the duo decided to roll with a combination of elevated four-seamers and splitters against the Yankees, and it worked to the tune of five solid innings on Monday night in the first postseason game at Target Field since 2010. But ultimately it wasn’t enough for the Twins in a 5-1 loss and three-game sweep to the Yankees in the American League Division Series.

Odorizzi, pitching for the first time since Sept. 24, gave up two runs on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. It was a fitting final performance for free-agency bound Odorizzi, who was the club’s most consistent starter this season.

“I gave it everything I had," Odorizzi said. "I had to be as close as perfect as I could be to give us a chance at winning. I was close to doing it, but that’s baseball. But I didn’t leave anything out there. If that was it, I’m happy with the way I got to leave in front of the fans.”

He pitched with composure, including in the first when Aaron Judge reached on a catcher’s interference and advanced to second on a wild pitch with one out. Odorizzi recovered to strike out Brett Gardner and get Edwin Encarnación to fly out to left to end the inning.

Odorizzi, though, was tagged for his first run in the second on a solo shot from Gleyber Torres, who was red-hot in the series. The homer, however, was hardly a no-doubter, as Torres got just enough of a first-pitch cutter to send it just over a leaping Jake Cave in left field.

"It's unfortunate that Gleyber got the homer out," Garver said. "I didn't expect it to leave the yard on a cold night. I didn't think it had the velocity off the bat. But I just thought he threw the ball great. He's a leader in here for us."

The defense let Odorizzi down in the third when Gio Urshela lined a pitch into left, only to see Cave make an ill-advised dive that allowed Urshela to reach second on a double. Urshela scored on a two-out single from Brett Gardner on a 2-2 four-seam fastball above the zone. Gardner’s single went past a diving Miguel Sanó, who moved to his left before the pitch and couldn’t quite get to the ball down the line.

“It was just me trying to limit the damage," Odorizzi said. "In a playoff game, you just have to do your best to pretend it didn’t happen. I almost got out of it. The second run coming in was a good pitch but it was just the wrong spot that we had moved away from. That could sum up our series."

Odorizzi otherwise had success using his high fastball on the night, getting eight of his 12 swinging strikes with his four-seamer. He registered three with his splitter and one with his cutter. He was also aggressive, which was a point of emphasis for the Twins, who had walked 16 batters in 16 innings at Yankee Stadium.

"He filled up the zone,” said reliever Trevor May. “He did what he did all year. He challenged guys up with fastballs. He located his fastball and had a really good splitter going. He kept us in the game.”

It was a formula that worked for Odorizzi throughout his bounce-back season that saw him post a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts, a year after recording a 4.49 ERA in 32 outings in 2018 in his first season with the Twins.

Odorizzi, 29, figures to command plenty of interest from teams in need of starting pitching this offseason, as he has a career 3.88 ERA and has made at least 28 starts in each of the last six seasons. He said he has interest in returning with the Twins, but that it’s ultimately not fully his decision.

“That’s out of my hands,” Odorizzi said. “I really enjoyed my two years here. If I’m back, great. I’ve really taken a liking to here. But if not, I wish nothing but the best. This is a great group of people from top to bottom. It’s tough to end the year, but at least I got to go out with great fans and a great atmosphere.”