Joe Ryan takes perfect game into seventh in Twins’ victory

Joe Ryan allowed himself a split second to curse after Amed Rosario’s groundball made its way through the infield for a one-out single in the seventh inning. In his head. The single had broken up the rookie’s bid for the rarest of pitching feats, a perfect game.

But it was still a tight game — the Twins were leading Cleveland 2-0 at the time — and Ryan needed to focus. The batter representing the tying run, José Ramírez, was staring at him from 60 feet, 6 inches away. One mistake and the game could easily be tied.

Rosario advanced to second when Ryan’s errant pick-off throw sailed way past Miguel Sanó at first, but in the end it was a minor blemish on what was nearly a perfect night in Ryan’s second major league start. He twirled 6 1/3 perfect innings before allowing  Rosario’s single and finished with seven shutout innings in the Twins’ 3-0 win Wednesday at Progressive Field.

“(Byron) Buxton was kind of messing with me, I think, a little bit; I thought I gave up a couple of shots and he’s just sitting there catching it at his waist,” Ryan said. “With (Max Kepler), I thought one was floating in behind second base and he came in and made that basket catch. I was like, ‘All right, this is nice.’ And then you keep it loose — I’m just going to hit my spots, execute the pitch that I want to throw and keep them guessing.”

The confident rookie did that all night. He was unflappable, and worked quickly through Cleveland’s lineup with the composure one would expect from a veteran, not a rookie with just a few big league innings under his belt.

Catcher Ryan Jeffers said the tandem went into the game with a better base after working with each other last week, using his offspeed pitches early and then turning to his oft-lauded fastball “as more of a kill pitch (that) played really big for him.”

“The Indians hitters were pretty aggressive and helped us keep our pitch count down, which helped us stay a little more fresher,” Jeffers said. “He just did a really good job sticking with the game plan, executing what the pitches were and just rolling. He had really good tempo on the mound, and that plays huge in games like this.”

Ryan’s performance, acting manager Bill Evers said, made his heart rate go up a bit. In the sixth inning, he ventured over to pitching coach Wes Johnson in the dugout to check on Ryan’s pitch count.

Satisfied with the answer, they let him roll, seeing how long he could take his perfection.

“In a situation like that, once he gives up the one hit, you’re kind of saying to yourself, ‘He’s pitched too well to face the tying or winning run at the plate,’ ” Evers said. “And the pitch count was enough and we felt strong about the bullpen, so everybody did their job and it was a beautiful thing and I got to present Joe with (a ball from) his first major league win.”

Caleb Thielbar and Tyler Duffey turned in two perfect innings of their own to close out the victory. Twins pitchers faced 28 batters, one over the minimum, and combined for their second straight shutout. Nick Gordon and Buxton each drove in a run, and Sanó hit his 25th home run of the year to propel Ryan to his first career win.

The win had some symmetry to it for pitcher and manager: Evers was also managing when Ryan picked up his first win as a minor leaguer.

In 2018, Evers was the Rays’ field coordinator but was filling in as the Hudson Valley Renegades’ manager on June 22 when the recently drafted Ryan threw two scoreless innings to pick up the win.

“He was there, the first person I met with the Rays when I went to Hudson Valley, so it was just fitting to have him manage tonight as well,” Ryan said. “So many connections there. It was great to have him there and have him hand me that first-win baseball. It was pretty special, getting to share that with him.”

It might not have been perfection, but it was a night Ryan won’t soon forget.

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