Twins lose to Mets despite López’s 14 strikeouts in eight shutout innings

Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

The Twins honored Pablo López for his 200th strikeout of the season, which came on his second batter of Sunday's game, but they couldn't celebrate one of the finest starts of his career.

López was phenomenal, magnificent and everything in between. He struck out a career-high 14 batters across eight scoreless innings. He didn't issue any walks and gave up only two hits, receiving a standing ovation from the Target Field crowd after he completed his final inning.

The only thing López was unable to do was provide himself with run support. Twins reliever Griffin Jax surrendered a two-run double to DJ Stewart in the ninth inning, and it spoiled a milestone start from López in a 2-0 loss to the Mets.

"Even he, I'm sure, isn't going to be celebrating it the way that it probably should be celebrated," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It was just beyond dominant."

Jax gave up a leadoff bloop double to Francisco Lindor, the Mets' first hit since the third inning, and he hit the next batter. After Jax struck out Pete Alonso, his full-count slider to Stewart in a nine-pitch at-bat was lined into the right-center field gap to break a scoreless deadlock.

It was a cruel twist for López, who allowed only four baserunners in his brilliant outing. He retired his final 10 batters and 16 of his last 17. He hit two batters, but he reached only one three-ball count.

When López chatted with other Twins starters afterward, he remarked that they can make 32 starts in a season, but there are only a few outings in which they have full command of all their pitches. Sunday was one of those days. He struck out seven batters with his fastball, five with his slider, one with his changeup and one with his curveball.

It was the most strikeouts by a Twins pitcher since Francisco Liriano struck out 15 in an eight-inning start against the Oakland Athletics on July 13, 2012.

"You go back to last year, and the 2022 Mets definitely did very good against me," said López, who entered with a 6.32 ERA in 11 career starts against the Mets. "Obviously, it's 2023. It's a new team. It's a new me. I'm a new pitcher. I worked on a lot of things to try to be better than I was, even better than I was five days ago."

López became the ninth Twins pitcher to record 200 strikeouts in a season with his first strikeout Sunday, joining José Berríos, Liriano, Johan Santana, Bert Blyleven, Dean Chance, Dave Boswell, Jim Kaat and Camilo Pascual.

Growing up in Venezuela, López has vivid memories of watching Santana dominate lineups like he did to the Mets.

"Anytime my name is next to Santana in any way, any category, anything, it means a lot to me," López said. "I grew up idolizing him when he was doing his thing. I'm just happy, proud. It means a lot to be a Twin. That's the uniform he wore for a really long time."

BOXSCORE: N.Y. Mets 2, Twins 0Twins statistics, MLB league leaders

Twins hitters had their chances to back López, but they went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

A baserunning mistake from Edouard Julien kept the Twins from loading the bases for Royce Lewis in the third inning. Julien was on first base, with Willi Castro at second, when Alex Kirilloff lined a ball into left field and Mets left fielder Jeff McNeil trapped the ball on a sliding attempt. Castro advanced to third, but Julien misread the play and was thrown out at second. Lewis followed with an inning-ending groundout.

"Not our greatest baserunning moment right there," Baldelli said. "It didn't end the inning, but it makes it a lot tougher to score. We would have been in a real good spot."