Twins starter one strike away from seventh shutout inning before yielding decisive run
By Alec Shirkey
BOSTON -- Mike Pelfrey hoped he was on the cusp of evading trouble again. After putting out brushfires for much of Tuesday night's start, he went into his windup one strike away from keeping the game scoreless in the seventh inning.
But as the pivotal pitch left Pelfrey's hand, his two-strike splitter didn't dip as it flew on a crash course over the heart of the plate. Xander Bogaerts belted it off the outfield wall for a double, and Rusney Castillo scored him with the decisive run on a single two at-bats later in Minnesota's 1-0 loss to Boston.
"Usually I have a hard time sleeping after games," Pelfrey said. "Being 0-2, two outs, hanging a [splitter] is going to kind of eat at me. I might have to take something to go to sleep so I can get up early tomorrow."
Pelfrey called that moment "the most frustrating part" of his outing. The ball, which appeared headed for home run territory, died in the chilly air and bounced back into fair territory as center fielder Aaron Hicks played it off the wall.
"It was pretty high off the wall," Hicks said. "No chance of catching that. Playing here, you got to play off the wall and put yourself in the best position to make another out. The guy was only at second at the time."
On the ensuing at-bat, Pelfrey walked Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon on five pitches. And though Twins manager Paul Molitor called the free pass a little tentative, he also noted that Leon recorded two hits off Pelfrey in Minnesota last week.
"That's one of those situations, I think we wanted to go at him," Molitor said. "I think Leon had a couple hits against Mike in Minnesota. He hit the jam-shot that Danny [Santana] caught [in the second]. I think with the open base, he was probably being a little careful and got behind. [Catcher Kurt] Suzuki came out to the mound after the three-ball count. They ended up taking their chances with Castillo, and he got the hit."
Pelfrey finished allowing only six hits and two walks over seven innings -- his fourth quality start in five outings -- but the right-hander's strong effort merely culminated in Minnesota's fourth shutout loss of the season.
Ground-ball outs and solid infield defense continued to be staples of Pelfrey's success as he worked out of a small handful of jams leading up to the game-deciding seventh. The splitter may have flattened out toward the end of his outing, he admitted, but that does not take away from the progress he has welcomed this season.
"The [splitter] to [Dustin] Pedroia was probably the best one I've thrown in a long time," Pelfrey said, referencing his lone strikeout. "But that pitch has been a little harder than I like, a little flat, so I think it can get a little better. But I'm obviously pleased with the way it's going."
However pleased Pelfrey was with his performance, he could take little solace on a night when Boston starter Clay Buchholz simply outdueled him. The Twins' offense managed just five baserunners in Buchholz's eight innings.
"[Buchholz] didn't have to waste many pitches with people on base. Limited the baserunners," Molitor said. "Had some strikeouts, particularly early. We expanded the zone a lot with two strikes. I think only one of his eight strikeouts was actually on a strike, and that was the called one on [Eduardo] Escobar."
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.