MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Ryan brought his colorful personality and his dazzling fastball to Target Field on Wednesday night -- and he hauled in his own fan club, too, roughly 75 people strong, from parents to friends to childhood friends to his parents’ friends to his friends’ parents to the guy who sold him his first car back in the day, a 1971 Triumph TR6.
“I could hear them the whole time,” Ryan said. “They were everywhere, too. They made surround sound in the stadium. They had like pockets of 15 all over. They were getting after it.”
Spurred on by that massive throng of supporters screaming, carrying signs and lingering half an hour after the game to bask in the night with him, the organization’s No. 6 prospect took control of large swaths of the game with his bread-and-butter heater, opening his big league debut by retiring six in a row and finishing it off by setting down seven straight. But what came in the middle sank Ryan and the Twins, as Frank Schwindel’s three-run blast in the third sent Minnesota to a 3-0 loss to the Cubs.
“Pretty on point of what I thought a big league debut would be like,” Ryan said. “I had a little Jimi Hendrix rolling out, that was pretty sweet to fire me up. It was perfect, too. ‘Purple Haze’ and purple lighting all around the top [of the stadium], I kept looking at that. And every time I looked at that, good things happened.”
No matter what Ryan did in his long-awaited debut following his arrival from the Tampa Bay organization in the July 22 trade that sent Nelson Cruz to the Rays, he wasn’t going to pitch Minnesota to victory on an evening the bats only mustered two hits -- both Brent Rooker singles -- as the Twins were held to one run in their two-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs.
Known for dominating hitters throughout the Minors with a heavy reliance on his deceptive fastball at the top of the zone, Ryan flashed that stuff as he made a big impression in the first inning, throwing all eight of his pitches for strikes and collecting his first career strikeout courtesy of Ian Happ.
“Really, the fastball looked like guys couldn't see it,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “There's a lot of guys just swinging through the fastball. Looked like it's something that's hard to pick up. You look at the board, it looks like 96 [mph] and it's coming out 91-92.”
After a tidy second frame, Ryan’s third proved decisive, when a leadoff walk to Alfonso Rivas and one-out double to Andrew Romine were followed by a fastball that Schwindel sent into the left-field bleachers, accounting for the only offense in the game.
“I think I just sped myself up a little too much, and just realizing that's going to happen,” Ryan said. “How do you reset? How do you make that adjustment? I kind of made that adjustment, I thought, in the inning. I think that kind of crept through into that last hitter. It was a ball, too, which was kind of annoying.”
Ryan also mixed in his slider, changeup and curveball throughout his five-inning, 89-pitch outing in which he allowed three and tallied 14 swinging strikes, the most by a Twins pitcher making his MLB debut since Statcast began tracking in 2015. He didn’t allow any baserunners outside of that third inning, amassing five strikeouts with one walk.
He had the poise to pair with that, too, as he was seemingly in his element throughout the evening -- from when he warmed up in the bullpen to when he signed autographs, took photos and mingled with his massive fan club after his outing, before the Twins headed off on their road trip to Tampa Bay.
“He looked very comfortable, he looked unrattled by anything,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And I mean that even in looking at the positive things that he did and everything that happened in the third inning. ... Not every guy, especially in your Major League debut, is going to be able to relax and just continue to do his job like that.”
That stuff, that poise and that easy comfort at this level? The Twins’ rotation could use that now more than ever.
Kenta Maeda underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, leaving the Twins scrambling to simply fill a starting rotation for next season. A strong September showing by Ryan, who showed up seasoned on the big stage after serving as the ace of Team USA during its silver-medal run at the Tokyo Olympics, could give the Twins another arm to pencil in at the start of 2022 -- and he’s eager to make the most of this extended opportunity.
“Just continuing to build on that going forward, establishing a good routine with the strength coaches, trainers, with [pitching coach Wes Johnson], everyone, and just working on that is going to be good for me,” Ryan said. “I'm hoping to keep that rolling and then build into a long career.
“I want one of those gold cards eventually. That's the goal. Maybe two. I know someone that has two of them now. That'd be cool.”