J.A. Happ flirts with no-hitter as Twins break four-game skid

The Twins entered Friday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates licking some deep wounds: losers of nine of their past 10 games, the last a heartbreaking 10-inning loss in Oakland, and three games postponed because of positive COVID tests in the organization. They needed something to go their way.

Enter J.A. Happ.

The veteran left-hander took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and the Twins got solo home runs from Willians Astudillo and Jake Cave to snap a four-game losing streak with a 2-0 victory over the Pirates at Target Field.

Happ (1-0) outdueled Pittsburgh starter JT Brubaker, allowing one hit in 7 1/3 shutout innings. He struck out three and lowered his earned-run average to 1.69.

“It’s just taking the whole team and picking everybody up,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “These are the moments and performances we need and are going to need from our group, and we got it.”

Making his third start of the season, and first in 10 days, Happ walked two batters in the second inning but otherwise faced the minimum over seven innings. Jacob Stallings broke up his no-hit bid with a one-out double in the eighth inning.

“It was fun,” Happ said. “You start feeling sort of the crowd a little bit. They’re cheering a little bit more after each out. It was getting pretty fun there, for sure.”

Taylor Rogers got the last two outs in the ninth for his first save in two chances this season, and Tyler Duffey pitched parts of the eighth and ninth innings for a hold.

It was a welcome relief for a team that was playing without three regulars because of COVID quarantines and hadn’t won a game since April 15.

“That’s part of baseball,” Astudillo said. “Some things go your way sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t. But (Happ) did a great job tonight for us. I think if we keep doing the little things like we did tonight, we’re going to start winning.”

Playing first base for injured Miguel Sano, Astudillo jumped on a high fastball well out of the strike zone from Brubaker to give the Twins a 1-0 lead with a two-out home run to left in the third inning.

“I was impressed with myself,” Astudillo said. “That was a high pitch, but I liked it and swung on it, and it went out of the yard.”

Cave doubled the Twins’ lead when he took a first-pitch Brubaker fastball opposite field with one out in the fifth, just clearing the fence for a 2-0 lead with one out. The homer snapped an 0-for-16 skid.

“It felt good,” Cave said. “I haven’t, obviously, played the way I wanted to, but what can you do? You have to go out there and keep swinging and keep battling and good things come, and it happened tonight. I was able to help J.A. He was ridiculous, so to be able to help him get a ‘W’ was big.”

Brubaker (2-1) gave up just the two runs in seven innings, striking out five and walking none. But Happ was slightly better.

Wilmer Difo appeared to leg out an infield single in the fifth inning, hitting a hard grounder that Happ deflected toward the third-base line. He tracked it down and his throw was off target, but Difo was called out for runner interference to end the inning.

After shortstop Jorge Polanco threw out Todd Frazier to start the eighth, the announced crowd of 9,541 socially distanced throughout the stadium rose to its feet in anticipation of a little history. But Stallings, who stepped to the plate on an 0-for-19 skid, doubled sharply to left to end the no-hit bid.

Happ said he knew immediately that his no-hit bid was over.

“I wanted to stay aggressive and try to execute a pitch there, which I think I did,” he said. “He kind of got to it.”

Fans remained on their feet and gave Happ a standing ovation as Baldelli came out to replace him with right-hander Duffey with Stallings on second and one out. Happ had thrown 95 pitches.

“J.A. was throwing the kind of game where he could easily have finished the game if there happened to be no baserunners,” Baldelli said. “But hit or not, that’s just a superb game from him.”

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