MINNEAPOLIS - The start ended a little earlier than Andrew Albers would've liked, but the outcome was well worth the wait — a mere eight years between wins with Minnesota.
Josh Donaldson's two-run home run in the first inning stood up for the well-traveled Albers, and the Twins beat the Milwaukee Brewers 2-0 on Friday.
Albers (1-0) threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his first major league start in four seasons, limiting the first-place Brewers to three hits and one walk.
"Played in a lot of different ballparks, gotten to take the mound a lot of different places. It was fun to come back here," said the 35-year-old Albers, a Canadian left-hander who spent three seasons in Japan from 2018-20.
The Brewers, whose NL Central lead over Cincinnati was shaved to 7 1/2 games, had their baseball-best road record fall to 42-22.
"There was some pregame excitement, but once the game started I was able to get locked in," Albers said.
Albers was promoted last week from Triple-A as yet another reinforcement for a depleted Twins pitching staff. He pitched four effective innings in relief in his first appearance on Aug. 19, which ended a 1,431-day absence from major league action.
"We see a lot of things in this game. We all come from different places and have a different story, but that’s a pretty special one," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "You really have to hand it to him, the ability to just keep pushing and plugging away."
Albers, who was actually drafted by the Brewers in 2004 out of his high school in Saskatchewan but did not sign, made his first major league start since Sept. 30, 2017, for Seattle.
After going the college route at Kentucky and being drafted by San Diego in 2008, Albers made his major league debut in 2013 with 10 starts for the Twins. He reappeared in their uniform in 2016, after stints in Korea, independent ball and other minor league clubs.
According to Twins research, his span of eight years and 15 days between wins in a Twins uniform is the sixth-longest in franchise history.
Brewers starter Eric Lauer (4-5) needed a season-high 102 pitches for 4 2/3 innings, surrendering six hits and two walks. He had two of his six strikeouts with the bases loaded in the second inning, but the two-out line drive into the left field bleachers for Donaldson's 20th homer loomed large.
Relievers Jorge Alcala, Danny Coulombe and Tyler Duffey picked up where Albers left off, with four of their eight outs by strikeout. When Duffey got Avisaíl García looking at a curveball to end the eighth with one runner on, García argued the call by home plate umpire Brian Gorman and was ejected. Alex Colomé pitched a perfect ninth for his eighth save, striking out two.
"I don’t think you expect umps to be perfect," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "But I think as you get to the bigger spots, you hope that we get real locked in."
The outlook for these teams has shifted hard since the season-opening series in Milwaukee, when the two-time defending AL Central champion Twins were one out away from a sweep. After losing the first game in 10 innings, when the Brewers rallied for three runs in the ninth, the Twins bounced back to win the next two games. They've produced little resiliency since.
With Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda currently on the injured list, and Maeda set for season-ending elbow surgery next week, none of the original members of the rotation remain in that role. Jose Berrios and J.A. Happ were traded, and Matt Shoemaker was released.
That's why Albers was here.
"It's cool to see stories like that," Lauer said. "It’s cool to recognize guys like that, see the work that they put in."
Buxton is back
The Twins are long-buried in the standings, but they got a bump from the return of star center fielder Byron Buxton after a 55-game absence following a broken pinky finger on his left hand.
He said before the game he expects some residual soreness.
"You can play through some things, and you’ve just got to know how to play through it and know what can make it worse," said Buxton, who went 0 for 3 with a walk. "I just want to play."
Brewers: SS Willy Adames (right quadriceps) was out of the lineup for the third straight game but was on track for DH duty on Saturday after a satisfactory round of pregame running. ... 3B/1B Eduardo Escobar (right hamstring), the former Twins sparkplug who won't get to play this weekend in his first trip to Target Field since being traded to Arizona in 2018, has been progressing well in his on-field workouts, Counsell said. Escobar is eligible to return on Thursday.
Twins: To make room for Buxton, C Mitch Garver was placed on the injured list (lower back tightness). ... Alcala was activated after missing the last 15 games (triceps tendinitis). There are still nine other pitchers on the injured list.
Brewers: RHP Adrian Houser (7-5, 3.44 ERA) starts the middle game of the series. He pitched in the fourth inning in his last outing, limited to 68 pitches as a precaution coming off the COVID-19 list.
Twins: LHP Charlie Barnes (0-3, 6.56 ERA) takes the mound on Saturday night. The rookie gave up seven runs on eight hits and five walks in five innings in his last turn in New York.