MINNEAPOLIS -- Entering Saturday, the Twins had not led an opponent since Miguel Sano’s walk-off homer against the Braves on Monday. They had fallen behind by a combined 28 runs before scoring themselves to begin the four games since then. They had lost sole control of first place in the division for the first time since April 26.
Jake Odorizzi understands why fans would panic. But there was no panic in the Twins’ clubhouse.
“I’m pretty new to Minnesota, but I know there’s been some tough years in multiple sports, and it just kind of carries over to this,” Odorizzi said. “It’s not in our control. We’re not fans. We’ve got to go out and do our jobs, but it’s easy to find panic. There’s no panic in here.”
Still, the Twins badly needed a starting pitcher to step up and reverse those fortunes on Saturday against the Indians. Odorizzi answered the call.
The All-Star right-hander didn’t have his cleanest night after a one-hour, 51-minute rain delay, but he had his best swing-and-miss stuff in several months when he needed it most and used that to navigate 5 2/3 gritty scoreless innings. The home crowd at Target Field certainly appreciated the stabilizing force, giving Odorizzi a raucous ovation as he exited after setting the tone in a 4-1 victory that reclaimed sole possession of first place for the Twins.
“[The fans] were trying to let out some of the frustrations of what we've been going through,” Odorizzi said. “I was appreciative of it.”
The Twins’ starting rotation had allowed 26 earned runs in 20 1/3 innings (an 11.51 ERA) in its previous four games, forcing the offense to work from behind, night after night. That bleeding was stopped by the scoreless outing from Odorizzi, who has allowed two runs in his last 17 1/3 frames.
“Somebody’s got to apply the tourniquet at some point,” Odorizzi said. “Might as well be me. I kind of pride myself on that.”
Odorizzi issued four walks for the first time since May 4 and allowed a hit in every inning he was on the mound. Along the way, he dealt with at least one runner in scoring position in every frame. He bent, but he never broke.
That’s because he generated 18 swinging strikes with his 102 pitches, including nine on his four-seam fastball and seven on his splitter, and found weak contact or a key strikeout at the end of every potential Cleveland rally to strand 10 runners during his performance. The 18 swings and misses were the third-most generated by Odorizzi this season, and his most since June 2.
“As long as they don’t score, that’s what my job is: to keep them from touching home,” Odorizzi said. “There’s times where you need to go into those modes if you know it’s going to be a close game: If it takes more pitches, more pitches is a better route to go than more runs. That’s the way I looked at this outing today. They’re an aggressive team and it’s a must-win game, so treat it as such.”
That gave the Twins’ offense a fighting chance against Cleveland starter Adam Plutko in the fourth inning, when Mitch Garver doubled under the glove of Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez and Arraez, the 22-year-old rookie, followed with an RBI triple -- the first of his career -- to the right-center-field gap.
“He just has good at-bats,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of Arraez. “It’s kind of in his nature to do so. He does it consistently -- probably every game he’s played this year, he’s had multiple at-bats that were either hard-hit balls or at-bats that he’s just gone very deep and made the pitcher work. He’s a unique experience to compete against.”
That broke the seal. C.J. Cron followed with an RBI single, and Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza both followed with two-out hits, though the rally was quashed when Yasiel Puig threw Cron out at home plate. But the damage was done, and Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers shut the door with 3 1/3 strong innings of relief.
It was a win that recalled the form of the well-rounded, productive club that pulled away so quickly from Cleveland in the first half, and following the performance, Odorizzi took the moment to directly address the fans.
“For the city in general that’s in panic mode right now: Everything is going to be fine,” Odorizzi said. “That’s how we take it in here. There’s a lot of talk of, the lead is what it is, we lost it. We also started the year off when we were even with Cleveland and we got to a point where we were up. It’s the same as Opening Day all over again. We got there one time, might as well continue to do it again.
“It's going to be OK. Just continue to hang in there and everything is going to be fine."