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North Battleford’s Albers shines in MLB debut

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Canadian left-hander Andrew Albers still remembers exactly what he was thinking about as he drove the 40 hours from Arizona to Florida for one last chance at being a big league ballplayer.

“I just wanted a shot,” he said.

The North Battleford, Sask., native made the most of his tryout with the Minnesota Twins that day two years ago, earning a minor league contract.

On Tuesday night, Albers got an even bigger shot at realizing his dreams when he made his major league debut against the Kansas City Royals.

Just like he did back then, Albers made the most of it. He allowed four hits while pitching into the ninth inning, leading the Twins to a 7-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

“It’s hard to put into words, but it was special to go out and have that kind of performance in your debut,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to get much better from there.”

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The first big leaguer from Saskatchewan in more than 20 years, Albers only allowed a collection of singles to one of the hottest teams in baseball, and at one point retired 15 straight.

He ended up two outs shy of his third straight complete game dating back to his days with Triple-A Rochester, and the first shutout in a big league debut since Detroit’s Andy Van Hekken did it in 2002. Casey Fien wound up finishing it up when Albers began to labour in the ninth inning.

“I didn’t want to go out there and take him out,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, “but he was completely out of gas there at the end. Wow that was fun to watch.”

The Twins took most of the pressure off Albers with a big night at the plate. Brian Dozier homered and drove in three runs, and Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C., and Chris Colabello also went deep.

The first big leaguer from Saskatchewan since 1991, when Terry Puhl retired, Albers showed promise when he was drafted by the Padres in 2008.

But he needed Tommy John surgery the next year and was released before showing what he could do with a rebuilt elbow, finally ending up with the Quebec Capitales of the Can-Am League when he was healthy enough to pitch again.

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Albers failed to impress in a pair of big league tryouts in Arizona in 2011, but he was willing to drive at his own expense to Florida for another try with the Twins.

His only other option was to head home to North Battleford and get on with life, and Albers showed just enough to earn himself a job.

“For a guy who’s not a prototypical prospect, for them to stick with me the way they have, it’s pretty special,” said Albers, who was 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA at Rochester before getting called upon to replace fellow Canadian Scott Diamond in the Twins’ rotation.

“You dream about this,” he said, “but you never know if it’ll actually happen.”

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