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Zulgad: Jake’s gem means that for one night at least pitch count isn’t king

There were numerous oddities on Wednesday night at Target Field.

A Major League Baseball game involving the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees was played in a brisk 2 hour, 46 minutes. The Twins’ 3-1 victory gave them back-to-back wins against the Yankees for the first time since 2013. Catcher Willians Astudillo, whose time in the 40-yard dash could be measured by a sundial, scored from first base on a seventh-inning double by Max Kepler.

But none of these things was as surprising as the decision Twins manager Paul Molitor made regarding Jake Odorizzi. For one night, in what has been an extremely frustrating season for Odorizzi and the Twins, Molitor decided that his starter’s pitch count wouldn’t dictate when he removed him.

Like it or not, and many old-timers hate it, we have entered a period in baseball where pitch counts are often the most important thing. If a starter gets to 100 pitches, that means it’s only a matter of time before he’s removed and even if that individual has a no-hitter going it doesn’t matter. But as Odorizzi put together hitless inning after hitless inning and his pitch count grew, Molitor made an exception.

He would trust the righthander to tell him how he felt.

Odorizzi had walked Giancarlo Stanton to lead off the second inning, but he retired the next 10 batters before walking Gary Sanchez in the fifth. Odorizzi then got the next nine Yankees hitters and had a no-hitter through seven.

“It was a good kind of stress for me trying to negotiate with Jake in between innings,” Molitor said. “No one wants to see anybody get hurt but he’s a veteran. He said he felt great, and I knew he would be smart about going about trying to find ways to take it a pitch at a time and a hitter at a time. We were kind of doing that after six (innings) and he made it exciting.

“I told him, ‘This is one of those rare nights when you get into this type of area in terms of doing something that was magical.’ You just try to do the best you can and trust that he was going to make a good decision for himself and not get too caught up. Sometimes you have to (make the decision) for him, but I thought he was in a good place.”

That is how with the Twins up 3-0 after seven innings, Odorizzi came back out for the eighth. Sanchez struck out swinging before Luke Voit drew a walk. Still, Odorizzi remained in the game as his pitch count neared the (unthinkable) 120 mark.

“Anytime you’re over 100 or right at 100 after six, with that situation, it’s pretty much hitter to hitter,” Odorizzi said. “That’s what (Molitor) said to me. He asked how I was feeling and I felt really good. I said, ‘I’m good with going hitter to hitter,’ because I knew, obviously the pitch count, they don’t want to do anything to injure anybody. We were on the same page the entire time. He just kept checking on me, asked how I was doing, and we let it roll.”

That roll ended when Voit’s walk was followed by a run-scoring double by Greg Bird to left-center. There was nothing cheap about Bird’s hit. The Twins had made several nice defensive plays behind Odorizzi, even the pitcher got involved by making a sliding play on the grass to get an out, but Bird’s hit brought an end to Odorizzi’s outing.

He left after giving up one run, one hit, with three walks and five strikeouts in a season-high 7.1 innings. His final pitch count was at 120. It was Odorizzi’s 30th start of the season. He had lasted six or more innings only eight times before Wednesday.

“Just a hat tip to him,” Odorizzi said when asked about his emotions after Bird’s hit. “I threw him a two-seamer. I hadn’t thrown many. I knew he was going to be swinging early, so I just wanted to get him to hit it off the end. He got enough of it to put it out there. It stayed true, didn’t slice, so put it in the perfect spot. I think if I throw a four-seamer he probably hits it in the seats. Just a good piece of hitting by him. Sometimes that’s how it goes.”

As Odorizzi exited the game he received a loud ovation from the announced crowd of 24,143. Odorizzi was acquired early in spring training from Tampa Bay with the hope that he would give the Twins a boost at the top of their rotation. That hasn’t happened as he and the Twins have struggled.

“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So it’s good to have one of these outings toward the end. Feel the energy, show them kind of what I’m capable of doing. Not, obviously, every time out, but it was just kind of a good culmination of a lot of things coming together and hearing the love.”

What if Odorizzi had retired Bird and gotten out of the eighth inning with the no-hitter intact? Would Molitor have allowed him to exceed, say, 140 pitches?

“Yes, I think where we were, and the fact that you saw there in the eighth inning he wasn’t throwing a ton of fastballs, he was trying to just somewhat trick them if you will to try and find ways to get outs,” Molitor said when asked if he could have been talked into letting Odorizzi pitch the ninth. “You look at the game and the plays that we made, combined with some relatively long fly balls that stayed in the park. It was just you thought the way things were going that he just might find a way to get it done. It just didn’t work out.”

Added Odorizzi: “What’s the difference between 120 and 140 (pitches?). Not much. You’re going to be sore the next day anyway. There’s not too many chances you get to do something that special. We’ll never know how many it would have taken, but I appreciate what Mollie was willing to do for me in letting me go out there.”


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