MILWAUKEE -- At the conclusion of Spring Training, manager Rocco Baldelli remarked that José Berríos is “at the top of his game right now.”
Since his debut in 2016, Berríos has struggled with his consistency, but there was never any doubt that ace potential was there. A tantalizing few times every season, he’d show flashes of the dominance that brimmed within. Saturday night, there was no mere flash -- he dazzled brighter than he ever had before as he and Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes each twirled no-hit bids through six innings.
Berríos didn’t get the chance to finish off his gem. He was pulled six innings and 84 pitches into the game. In the eighth, Tyler Duffey allowed a one-out single to Omar Narváez as Minnesota fell five outs shy of the first combined no-hitter in club history. The Twins instead settled for a 2-0, one-hit blanking of the Brewers fueled by Byron Buxton’s solo homer, their first win of the season.
Twins pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts, two shy of the club record. That marked their highest total in a nine-inning game since May 20, 2018 -- also against Milwaukee.
“José was awesome,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Any time we’re sitting in the game and someone hasn’t given up a hit yet, I’ll be honest, it’s not the most comfortable spot to be in, when contemplating taking a guy out or leaving him in the game. It’s hard.”
In another year, on another day, it might have been so much more. But this early in the season, coming off a 60-game campaign, Baldelli wasn’t letting his starter go the distance. Once Buxton homered to break up Burnes’ no-hit bid and give the Twins the lead, Baldelli was going to Taylor Rogers with two lefties due up in the seventh.
Surprisingly, he didn’t get much pushback from the right-hander.
“José was all smiles,” Baldelli said.
Turns out, Berríos himself didn’t have a clue that anything out of the ordinary was going on.
“I didn't know we had no-hitters,” Berríos said. “When Rocco came to me and took me out of the ballgame, he just gave me a hug. He didn't say anything and didn't let me say anything back to him. When I came off the field, I saw that we had a no-hitter going."
But that’s just how locked-in Berríos gets, especially on a day like this. He threw two no-hitters in high school, and he noted that he wasn’t aware of either of those in the moment, too. He might have put up more of a fight had he known.
“I would have tried,” Berríos said. “But Rocco is the manager. Whatever decision he makes, I respect."
Berríos’ fastball had the extra zip on it that he’d showcased in Spring Training, as his 95.3 mph average velocity on the four-seam fastball was a tick shy of the highest of any start in his career. The Brewers had no answers for his curveball, which generated nine of his 18 swings-and-misses. His 12 strikeouts matched a career high, and he became the only pitcher in franchise history to strike out that many without allowing a hit through six innings.
Through six innings, the sinker darted and the changeup dove. Through six innings, Berríos stymied Milwaukee hitters in every which way, pounding strike after strike in a masterclass of movement and command. Through six innings, he and Burnes were the only dueling starters in the modern era to each post double-digit strikeouts in the same game without allowing more than one hit.
Then, the seventh came, and Berríos was gone.
"He was spotting everything,” Narváez said. “That’s the nastiest I’ve ever seen of him, so I have to give him a lot of credit today."
“That's what we come to expect out of José,” Rogers said. “He set the bar pretty high for himself. Hope that is a sign of things to come."
Berríos and Michael Pineda watched from the dugout as Rogers struck out the side in the seventh, but Duffey walked Lorenzo Cain and allowed the single to Narváez in the eighth. Sure, history was on Berríos’ mind in the moment, but he was more thrilled that he pitched his team to its first win of 2021.
If he keeps pitching like this, more of those chances could come. But would he have finished off this no-no if given this chance?
"Yeah,” Berríos said, laughing. “I can say yes now."
Who’s to say no?