Andrew Albers was so close to capping off a memorable night with what would have been an even more memorable ending. He neared a milestone that only one pitcher in Twins history had ever done before: throw a complete game in his major league debut.
In the end, Albers fell just two outs shy of going the distance. Still, he stymied the Royals in his major league debut by throwing 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Minnesota’s 7-0 victory.
For a pitcher who was playing in the independent Canadian-American Association just three years ago, Tuesday night was one for the storybooks — and a night Albers will not soon forget.
“It felt pretty surreal,” Albers said. “It was definitely a dream come true.”
Albers was hardly blowing away Kansas City hitters on Tuesday. The soft-throwing Twins left-hander didn’t even touch 90 mph on the radar gun. Some of his pitches were clocked in the 60s.
None of that mattered, though. He worked around the plate effectively, forced Kansas City batters to roll over the ball for soft groundouts, and induced lazy pop flies in the game’s later innings. Albers struck out two batters and allowed just four hits — two singles each to Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar. His only walk of the night came against the last batter he faced, as Hosmer drew a four-pitch walk to end Albers’ night. That was also the only time a Royals batter reached second base against Albers.
With Albers at 109 pitches, manager Ron Gardenhire decided to take the rookie out of the game and let Casey Fien finish things out. Albers missed out on a complete game shutout but settled for a victory in his first big league start.
“I did not want to go out there and take him out,” Gardenhire said of Albers. “He was absolutely out of gas there at the end. I didn’t want to see him walking off after giving up a hit or something crazy. But wow, that was fun to watch. A great performance your first night in the big leagues. To do what he did against a team that’s red hot like that was pretty special for us.”
Any potential first-game jitters for Albers were eased by the Twins offense, which spotted him a lead early. Before he even took the mound for the first time, the Twins led 3-0 in the bottom of the first inning. Brian Dozier started off the game with a home run and Justin Morneau followed it up with a two-run shot of his own.
“I was glad the offense went out and put up a three-spot for me,” Albers said. “I think that helped me relax a little bit. I was able to be aggressive and they just happened to keep hitting the ball where the defense was.”
Minnesota added a run in the second and another in the fourth before putting two more on the board in the sixth inning. That allowed Albers to pitch with a comfortable 7-0 lead for the last few innings.
Behind the plate Tuesday for Albers’ debut was Chris Herrmann, a catcher he was familiar with. The two worked plenty together at Rochester this year, so it was only natural that Herrmann caught Albers on Tuesday.
“I have a great idea of what he wants to throw,” Herrmann. “He just pitched his game. He doesn’t really have overpowering stuff, so he has to really command with his fastball and his changeup and his cutter. He came out and did a great job with that. Hats off to Albers for just pitching an outstanding game and getting his first major league win.”
Albers nearly had his third complete game in his last three starts, dating back to his time at Triple-A Rochester. He threw nine innings in a win on July 26 and went eight innings in a losing effort on July 31 — another complete game — in his last outing before his call-up to the majors.
The Twins recalled Albers from Rochester when they demoted another Canadian left-hander, Scott Diamond. It remains to be seen how long Albers’ stint in the majors will last this season, but Tuesday’s debut was certainly a strong start.
“It’s been a bit of a long journey,” Albers said. “To have it culminate in something like this, to go out there and be able to have that kind of performance in your first outing is pretty special. I’m so thankful to God and thankful to the Twins organization for giving me that opportunity.”