CHICAGO -- The seventh inning belonged to José Berríos alone -- and why wouldn’t it? The right-hander had cruised through six innings and skipped off the mound after striking out José Abreu, the reigning league MVP, to cap the last of those frames.
As it turned out, a pair of Twins starters came three outs away from making a big statement in a doubleheader against the first-place White Sox on Monday -- but all that came undone with one big swing from Gavin Sheets.
The White Sox rookie’s three-run, walk-off blast off Berríos in the seventh undid what was a dominant effort from the right-hander -- plus a pair of homers from Mitch Garver in his return to the lineup -- and sent the Twins to a 5-3 loss in the nightcap of Monday’s doubleheader at Guaranteed Rate Field. Until that point, Berríos and rookie Griffin Jax had stifled the first-place South Siders -- but they had to settle for a split following Minnesota’s 3-2 win in eight innings in Game 1.
“I’ll be honest: There was very little discussion today in this game of taking [Berríos] out of the ballgame early or even in that final inning,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We were going to let him pitch us to the end of that ballgame.”
With the July 30 Trade Deadline looming and Berríos’ name swirling as a possible trade candidate -- albeit a costly one -- his value to the Twins and potential upside for any interested suitors in a market largely devoid of starting pitchers continued to be evident for most of the evening. Through six frames, the only two hits he allowed were solo homers to Abreu and Yoán Moncada alongside one walk to pair with his eight strikeouts.
Then, that seventh came, and Berríos was out there partly because of how dominant he’d been for most of the game through 84 pitches, but also because the Twins needed him out there, considering they were playing their fifth game in three days, with all of their high-leverage bullpen options used in the first game.
He got ahead, 0-2, to leadoff hitter Brian Goodwin, but the outfielder punched a leadoff single through the right side. Berríos then admitted he tried to get too “fine” with his locations, brushing Andrew Vaughn with a pitch inside before Sheets got a 3-1 fastball on the inside corner and crushed it into the right-field seats.
“When I finished [the sixth] inning with a strikeout, I wanted to keep that momentum and stay in the game,” Berríos said. “Rocco and [pitching coach] Wes [Johnson] gave me that confidence and the chance to go back out there in the seventh. Like I said, it's part of the game. I did my best. I gave it my 100 percent out there."
Berríos was charged with five runs, snapping a streak of 29 consecutive starts of four or fewer runs allowed entering Monday, the fifth-longest active streak among starting pitchers. That’s the value he was trying to show as the Twins face a decision with him in the coming two weeks -- especially as he indicated to the Minneapolis Star Tribune over the weekend that he’s eyeing his upcoming free agency following the 2022 season, which could make an extension more difficult.
But as president of baseball operations Derek Falvey suggested earlier in the day, Berríos could still be part of a possible contender the Twins hope to build next season, with the possibility to continue stabilizing what has otherwise been a messy and ineffective rotation in '21.
“My job is to always take phone calls and make sure we never turn it off, and listen to everything that's discussed from team to team, but for us, it's a really high bar to move guys that we think are going to be a big part of competing again for another American League Central division championship,” Falvey said on MLB Network.
Whether Berríos stays or goes, the Twins will likely take the second half to evaluate their young starting candidates for the immediate future -- and Jax could be one of them, if he can carry through the form that saw him draw 16 swings and misses in a four-inning, one-hit outing as the Twins’ starter in Game 1, matching the third-most whiffs by any Twins pitcher through four innings in the Statcast era (since 2015) before he was sent back to Triple-A St. Paul.
"A lot of it's just taking every single opportunity I can get and proving not only to myself, but to the coaching staff and the front office, that I do belong up here and that I can help this team win ballgames,” Jax said.