CHICAGO — When Kenta Maeda was rebuilding his arm after Tommy John surgery, he had doubts about whether days like Thursday would ever happen again.
Maida was old Maida. He ordered all his pitches. He completed seven innings, matching his longest start of the season, and threw a season-high 105 pitches during the Twins’ 10-2 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. The Twins cut their magic number down to eight to capture the division title.
The 35-year-old right-hander, who finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2020, wasn’t always sure his arm would feel the same way it did before surgery.
“I had concerns about my arm getting hurt or sore,” Maeda, who had never thrown more than 98 pitches at the start of this season, said through an interpreter. “Then I was put on [injured list] From May to June. Then, slowly but surely, I felt more comfortable throwing longer innings, and more pitches. “To be able to do that tonight was definitely huge.”
Maeda had eight hits, primarily with his splitter, despite striking out on the first pitch to only 11 of 26 hitters. He said the low percentage of hits on the first pitch was by design, knowing that few teams swing on the first pitch more often than the White Sox.
Despite being late in the counts, Maeda retired 14 of his first 15 batters with only a handful of balls reaching the outfield. He entered the seventh inning for the first time since July 24 before losing a shutout after issuing a one-out walk to Yoán Moncada and a two-run homer to Andrew Vaughn.
“Kenta was in control and looked very sharp, so we let him go,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, noting that the bullpen was a little taxing. “This is the longest he’s had this year, and I think it’s good for him.”
The Twins, who scored 10 runs, did not produce a baserunner in their first three innings against White Sox starter José Ureña. They hit only three balls from the outfield, one of which was an error to left field.
In the top of the fourth inning, Edouard Julien put the Twins ahead when he homered a 93 mph sinker. His swing sent the ball over the right field fence and caused his helmet to fly off his head. It was his 13th home run of the season and his first trot around the bases without a helmet.
“It’s something new with him every day,” Baldelli said.
Royce Lewis followed three batters later with a 426-foot homer to left field, a one-off that no doubt elicited only a listless home run from White Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi.
“To have a rookie hitter [Julien] “Right there, it says how we feel about him,” Baldelli said. “Royce is fourth. These are impact guys who come in and play well. They put in the work every day, and they handle it all well.”
It wasn’t all happy moments in the final blowout. Lewis gave the Twins an injury scare in the fifth inning, tweaking his left ankle when he hit the ball to his left and slid into the outfield before hitting a hard throw across the diamond for the out. He scowled and bent at the waist, prompting a visit from trainer Nick Paparista, but he stayed in the game after adjusting his left cleat.
The Twins knocked Ureña out of the game during a four-run seventh inning. After a total of three hits in the first six innings, they had four straight hits that included a single from Matt Wallner through the right side of the field and Kyle Farmer followed with a two-run homer.
Four more runs were scored in the ninth inning. The Twins, who had played just three more games against a team with a winning regular-season record, scored the first two runs of the inning without the ball leaving the field. The rally started when Farmer hit the ball, but reached base on a throwing error after the ball hit the dirt.
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