Ed note: Everyone welcome Joe to Twinkie Town. He brings one heck of a baseball resume, and is kind enough to join us on the front page.
Kenta Maeda was phenomenal on Tuesday night. Working deeper into a game from a pitch standpoint than he had in his entire major league career, the right-hander came within three outs of tossing the Twins’ first no-hitter since 2011.
Maeda’s final line looks very similar to the gem thrown by Jose Berrios on Opening Day last year for the Twins—and there are many similarities between the two outings.
Berrios took the hill on March 28, 2019 (surely seven years ago in pandemic time) and turned in this outing, a kickoff to what would become a 101-win season that culminated in a division title for the Twins:
7.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K
On Tuesday night, Maeda did not allow a hit through the first eight frames, walking just two and fanning 12, including eight in a row at one point. A bloop single by Eric Sogard leading off the ninth ended Maeda’s quest for history. One can imagine the standing ovation the first-year Twin would have gotten if this were a normal season.
Berrios had a slightly more efficient first inning last year, throwing nine pitches (eight of them for strikes) while striking out two.
Maeda issued a walk to former National League MVP Christian Yelich in the first inning as his pitch count rose to 15, but he retired Keston Hiura and Justin Smoak to end the frame and strand Yelich on first.
It was a second straight economical frame to begin the game for Berrios, as he threw just two of his eight pitches outside the strike zone, setting down the Indians in order.
Maeda nearly exactly mirrored Berrios’ second inning, doing him one better by working a seven-pitch 1-2-3 frame with one ball. Both of them retired the side on a lineout, groundout and flyout in the inning, albeit in a different order.
The closest Berrios came to getting in trouble in the third came when he fell behind 3-1 to brand-new Cleveland second baseman Brad Miller, but came back with a pair of fastballs to strike him out. Berrios then fanned Eric Stamets on three pitches to end an 11-pitch inning and was perfect the first time through the lineup.
Despite tossing a perfect third inning, Maeda had to work a bit as a seven-pitch at-bat by Luis Urias and Eric Sogard battling for five pitches led to 15 tosses in the frame for the right-hander who came from the Los Angeles Dodgers in February. He whiffed Sogard and Avisail Garcia to end the frame to start a remarkable streak.
The baserunner off Berrios on a 49-degree Opening Day came courtesy of a leadoff double by Leonys Martin in the fourth. He was able to wiggle his way out of the jam despite also walking Carlos Santana with two outs, striking out Hanley Ramirez to end the inning, a game-high 18-pitch frame for Minnesota’s ace.
Maeda struck out the side in order in the fourth—although it took him 16 pitches to do so. Yelich battled before whiffing on the eighth offering, then Maeda fanned Keston Hiura and Justin Smoak with relative ease.
Berrios coasted through a 12-pitch top of the fifth, culminating with a second straight punchout of Brad Miller.
In Maeda’s fifth inning, he continued his dominance by again striking out the side, including a pair of three-pitch jobs against Ryan Braun and Ben Gamel. His strikeout of Gamel was the eighth batter in a row he whiffed, setting a new franchise record for the Twins. Southpaws Jim Merritt (1966) and Francisco Liriano (2010) each punched out seven consecutive batters, a mark that stood until this week. Minnesota’s offense was equally quiet through four, as Brewers starter Corbin Burnes took a no-hitter into the fifth. However, Luis Arraez and Miguel Sano each connected on a two-bagger to break the deadlock and give Maeda a run of support.
Eric Stamets took a first-pitch ball to begin the sixth inning, but Berrios then came back with nine strikes in a row to retire the side in order. He struck out Stamets before retiring Leonys Martin and Jose Ramirez. On the other side, Indians ace (at the time) Corey Kluber was completely dominating the Twins lineup as well. The home team did not register a hit until Byron Buxton doubled with one out in the sixth, with the contest remaining scoreless into the seventh.
Milwaukee was finally able to put the ball back into play against Maeda in the sixth, grounding out three times in a 13-pitch frame. When Luis Urias grounded a 1-1 pitch to shortstop Jorge Polanco, he became the first hitter to put a Maeda offering in play since he did it himself in the third - a span of 38 pitches.
A pair of long at-bats to lead off the seventh inning began to chew into Berrios’ pitch count, as Tyler Naquin and Carlos Santana each worked him for seven pitches before striking out and flying out, respectively. Hanley Ramirez then flied out on the third pitch, sending the game to the stretch. The Twins offense finally broke through in the bottom half when Marwin Gonzalez doubled in two runs, putting a deserving Berrios in line for the victory.
Maeda faced a pair of similar lengthy plate appearances in his seventh frame. After retiring Yelich on two pitches to start the inning, Keston Hiura popped out on the sixth pitch of his at-bat before Justin Smoak worked the count full, fanning on the seventh offering. Just like the Berrios Opening Day game, the Twins led 2-0 after seven, courtesy of a Jorge Polanco RBI single.
With it being his first start of the regular season, Berrios was nearing the end of the line as he went back out for the eighth inning. He induced Jake Bauers to ground out and then struck out Roberto Perez on three pitches, but Brad Miller singled on a 2-1 pitch, prompting Minnesota rookie manager Rocco Baldelli to take the baseball from Berrios. He left the mound to a rousing ovation at Target Field. Southpaw reliever Taylor Rogers made sure the lead would hold up, striking out three of the four batters he faced as the Twins earned a 2-0 victory in a phenomenal pitcher’s duel to start the year.
With his pitch count at 92 after seven, it was going to be difficult for Maeda to complete his masterpiece without help, given that his career-high in the big leagues was 111. After striking out Ryan Braun to begin the inning, Maeda’s hope of finishing the game was made even tougher by Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez, who walked on the tenth pitch of his at-bat. Maeda did retire Ben Gamel (strikeout) and Luis Urias (groundout) to keep the no-no intact through eighth, but he was now at 113 pitches.
As the Twins pushed across another insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on a bunt single by Ehire Adrianza, Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson determined that Maeda would go back out to start the ninth inning.
Eric Sogard took a called strike to open the ninth, and then blooped the next pitch over the head of a leaping shortstop Polanco for a leadoff single. Maeda was done after 115 pitches, having come so close to throwing Minnesota’s first no-hitter since Francisco Liriano did so on May 3, 2011 against the Chicago White Sox.
Just like in 2019, Baldelli turned to Taylor Rogers to finish the game, but the story ended up being different. Milwaukee rallied for three runs to tie it up with Rogers on the mound in the ninth, sending the game to extra innings. The Twins manufactured a run to win the game in the 12th inning despite not hitting the ball out of the infield, something we will continue to see a lot of with the new extra-inning rule in place this year.
With the gem thrown by Jose Berrios on Opening Day last season and the masterpiece twirled by Kenta Maeda on Tuesday, it is only a matter of time before a Twins pitcher accomplishes one of the most rare and prestigious single-game achievements in America’s Pastime.