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Astros 4, Twins 1: Maeda excellent, everything else bad, 17 straight

Kenta did what was asked of him, but it was Astros swingman Framber Valdez who dominated this game.

MLB: Wild Card-Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins
This tied it. More came later.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

While Kenta Maeda provided every inch of the postseason start Minnesota had hoped for when they signed him this offseason, blown opportunities give this one to the 2017 cheaters (and now prohibitive series favorites). Maeda only had one serious jam, and escaped it, leaving with a high-ish pitch count after five innings and a 1-0 lead.

Experienced veteran Zack Greinke faced a based-loaded jam right away, but lucked out of it on a hard-hard lineout. That would be his story today, giving up only one run despite only one strikeout of a usually K-happy Twins lineup. What really turned the game for Houston was manager Dusty Baker’s decision to bring in his speculated Game 2 starter, young lefty Framber Valdez, to replace Greinke in the fifth inning. Valdez absolutely destroyed Minnesota’s lineup, allowing no hits until there were two outs in the ninth. At least he won’t pitch tomorrow!

Minnesota’s lead became a tie later, and the tie became a loss when a two-out error by Jorge Polanco led to three unearned runs.

Inning-by-inning notes, if you want to relive the joy:

1: A two-out double from Michael Brantley does no damage. Maeda pitch count is 16. It’ll really benefit a struggling Twins bullpen if he can make a longish start.

Byron Buxton gets a steal! I forgot he even did that anymore. Max Kepler thought ball 3 was ball 4 and started jogging to first; he’d lost track of the count. A funny on you, Max. He got ball 4 on the next pitch. Nelson Cruz then walked, and Eddie Rosario showed atypical patience before whomping a 100+ liner right into the glove of Yuli Gurriel. That left it up to Miguel Sano, and you can guess what happened. At least he dribbled out and didn’t K. 30 pitches for Greinke, though.

2: Maeda up to 41 now. I suppose this happens in all postseason games, but I’m wary of Minnesota’s “accurate-but-slow or faster-but-wilder” bullpen. Greinke is effective enough to put him at the exact same number.

3: Kenta up to 55. My food in the oven up to Almost Done.

After a two-out KepWalk, Cruz doubled over Josh Reddick’s head. He didn’t immediately get the ricochet of the right-field wall, and coach Tony Diaz decided to risk it. Kepler barely beats the relay! The Twins LEAD 1-0!

4: Well, the Twins were ahead, so that means the lead is immediately in trouble. An Alex Bregman walk and Kyle Tucker single put two on with one out; a fly to Buxton and four-pitch walk to Carlos Correa loaded them with two gone. Per radio, this was the first time Maeda pitched with the bases loaded all season! He got Reddick swinging (who commenter Uncle Lincoln called Shojĵ Greenc**k). Up to 81 pitches, though... (Greinke “only” at 78).

5: To my happy surprise, Rocco Baldelli leaves Maeda in to face hitters 9-1-2. He gets them 1-2-3.

Young lefty Valdez will not be starting tomorrow’s game as he comes in here. He promptly walks Marwin Gonzalez, then delays the game by insisting the Twins ground crew redo the mound for him. Oh, I’m sorry, did Greinke & Maeda not leave it all perfect for you? Than he walks Luis Arraez. Nothing happens. The Twins are now 0-5 with RISP.

6: Bullpen success! A quick 11-pitch inning for Trevor May. Valdez eats three more Twins. I ate too much food and I’m nervous and it’s making my tummy ungroovy.

7: Rocco is burning through his bullpen fast, bringing in Tyler Duffey despite May’s low pitch count. I think I get the idea — don’t overuse anyone and make them unavailable tomorrow — but it doesn’t work out, as George Springer hits the third of three two-out singles which scores Reddick for the tie. Gulp. My tummy is no better. 1-1 Everyone

8: Duffey remains, for the length of time it take to walk Jose Altuve, which is four pitches. Taylor Rogers replaces him. Trogdor is perfect. Unfortunately so is Valdez. I have a feeling that superior bullpen management (namely, pulling May quick, using Valdez today instead of tomorrow) is going to be the difference in this game.

9: Sergio Romo enters and gives up a bloop leadoff single to Gurriel who swings at an 0-2 slider WAYYYY outside and somehow makes contact. Correa gets a real hit. Romo then gets the next two ‘Stros, and should have had three, but Polanco made a bad throw and everyone was safe. Romo walked Altuve. Caleb Theilbar came in. He gave up more points. The Twins still got Valdez’d. Final, Twins looooosz

Robot Roll Call:

COTG go to Uncle Lincoln for the aforementioned Reddick nickname and for suggesting that TwinkieTown provide its own live playoff commentary — not via Zoom, but using Tinder. TwinkieTown After Dark in the daylight, nice!

Jose Berrios will pitch tomorrow for Minnesota. I might have gone with Michael Pineda, who’s technically never been part of this Twins postseason futility streak, but he’s at least lined up for Game 3 if one happens. See ya 12:08 tomorrow against mysterious Houston starter T.B.D.