MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After losing 103 games last season, the most in the franchise’s 57 years in Minnesota, the Twins have reached the final stretch with a spot in the playoffs in plain sight.
That’s almost as remarkable as, well, a 44-year-old starting pitcher helping lead the push.
Yes, Bartolo Colon has managed to top himself once again.
“I stopped being surprised about 10 years ago,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
In eight starts since the Twins made this here-goes-nothing acquisition in July, Colon has logged 49 innings with a 4.04 ERA for a rotation that has had a whopping 16 participants so far this season covering the five spots.
The Twins have won four of Colon’s five turns this month, including a complete game. They took a 1½-game lead in the race for the second American League wild-card spot into their off day on Monday.
“That kind of staying power, it’s impressive,” catcher Jason Castro said. “You definitely have to make adjustments and be able to bounce back from getting knocked down, because it will happen over the course of a career.”
Many times, when that career spans 20 years, 10 major league teams and 3,284 innings .
“I’d much rather get an easy out than throw three strikes,” Colon told reporters after his last appearance, a strikeout-less victory over 6 2/3 innings in Toronto. “If they come, they come, but if they don’t, that’s fine, too.”
After winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2005, Colon took a sharp downward turn.
By 2008, when he pitched for Francona in Boston, a back injury and a team-rankling premature return to his native Dominican Republic limited him to 39 innings. Colon did not appear in the majors at all in 2010. In 2012, he served a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone.
Then began the endless curtain call that the burly Colon and the fans of “Big Sexy” have been enjoying since. He won 18 games for Oakland in 2013 while being selected for the All-Star team. The renaissance continued in New York, highlighted by another All-Star appearance, this time for the Mets, in 2016.
His stint with Atlanta earlier this season looked like the end. He had an 8.14 ERA over 13 starts, plenty of evidence for any front office to pull the plug on the experiment. But the Twins trusted their scouts and analysts enough to believe Colon was still capable of major league effectiveness. With the Braves, for example, he suffered from an outsized .367 batting average by opponents on balls in play.
With Byron Buxton anchoring a superb outfield defense, the Twins are as well-positioned as any team to win behind Colon impeccably pitching to contact, with his trusty sampler platter of slightly different fastballs infrequently exceeding 90 mph. He has issued only 10 walks.
Kyle Gibson, who was the staff albatross for much of the season, has obviously been taking notes. In six starts since Colon’s debut, Gibson has a 3.86 ERA. The Twins have won four of them.
“He knows how to get hitters out, and he knows how to read hitters and their approach,” Gibson said. “It’s just those little things, watching him use what he has and how he effective he is. It’s pretty cool.”
Speaking to the media only after he pitches, and through a translator, Colon is the silent giant on a team filled with players who were preschoolers when he first broke in the majors with the Indians in 1997.
There’s hardly a better example in baseball than Colon of the just-playing-a-kids’-game attitude that’s sometimes necessary to diffuse the multimillion-dollar tension on the field. With a simple toss of a ball in the air during the wait for the manager, Colon bides his time on the mound like most boys two, three or four decades his junior.
“I try to learn from him,” third baseman and fellow Dominican Miguel Sano said. “He’s the old guy here and has the most experience out of everyone here. We need people like that.”
Especially in this unexpected chase for the playoffs.
“Nothing really fazes him,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He knows how to win, and I think that’s going to be the most important thing down the stretch for a lot of guys.”
AP freelance writer Brian Hall contributed to this report.
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