A Little Power, A Little Pitching, A Little Piranha
The Minnesota Twins treated a packed house to a rollicking opening day victory that saw each one of the pillars of last year's success (our newfound power, our piranhas, our pitching) contributing toward a 7-4 victory. Those first two innings were particularly exciting: Johan Santana striking out a pair in as many innings, and, in the second, picking off Miguel Tejada so cleanly the runner didn't bother to grouse. Joe Mauer cracked a hit in the bottom of the first (suddenly batting 1.000!), and while Michael Cuddyer stranded the reigning AL batting champ, the right fielder did so with a pesky at-bat, fouling off pitch after pitch before standing there and watching a nice fat one go by. And that's fine, for after all, it's still the first inning of the very first game. But next inning, sweet Jesus in Dollywood, Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter hammered back-to-back pitches into left and right fields, respectively (two more batting 1.000!) All was well in Twins Territory, yes?
Well, there was that pesky fourth, when the former St. Louis Browns touched our ace with three hits, a walk, and emerged with the lead at 3-2. This was in part to some mediocre fielding, most notably when second baseman Luis Castillo decided to relay Cuddyer's return of an Aubrey Huff double and send it home with a throw that more resembled a kid skipping a rock across a pond on a lazy afternoon. The runner, Jay Payton, was easily safe at home, while Huff, a slow-footed beast if ever there was one, scooted into third and scored easily on a single.
Were you to hope that this first game would augur great things, well, the Twins certainly seemed like a cohesive unit tonight, utterly capable of picking up their ace when he wasn't at the top of his game (and Santana is rarely on top of his game in April, though he's got an incredible win streak dating back to August 2005). After the O's took the lead back, our boys at the top of the order set to nibbling, as Ozzie Guillen and the Twins marketing department would say, and it was 6 to 4 on a hit, a ground rule double, a walk, a hit, and another double. Castillo, Nick Punto, and Jeff Cirillo all did their jobs in conjunction with the heart of the order, and in fact every Twin except Jason Bartlett and the pitching staff reached base this evening. Our relievers came in, all four (Reyes, Crain, Rincon, and Nathan, in that order), and threw nothing for the Orioles to hit, giving up a one hit, two walks and a balk, and that door's shut tight as a drum.
Fortunately for the Twins, their mistakes weren't punished. There were a pair of baserunning blunders that seem to come whenever the Twins fill the Dome--I'm still remembering Torii's bizarre race for third against the Yanks in the '04 playoffs. Tonight it was this: Morneau's trying to score from second in the Twins half of the fourth. Thousands stared in disbelief as third base coach Scott Ulger seemed to have channeled the spirit of Al Newman, waving Morneau home, where the MVP was out by a car length (a Mini, granted) and tried to plow over the catcher, Paul Bako, and risking some serious injury to himself. That would have been a lovely way to start the year. Morneau also tried to stretch a single into a double in his next at-bat and was canned. These are problems in a close game. Fortunately, this game wasn't as close as the score indicated.
I raise these concerns only because they're sitting at the front of my mind, and rest assured that my pessimism will not leave me until, say, the last out of the game that eliminates this team from winning the World Series. Opening Day is, of course, a funhouse mirror, stretching each success into a taffy-shaped giant and squinching failure into a frog-faced dwarf. I should be awed by the presence of the greats--Jack Morris and Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Brad Radke (who I have to admit am glad he's no longer in uniform to torment me)--and the garbled tributes to Herb Carneal that no one could hear (seems like every Opening Day of late is as much a wake as anything else). Perhaps I should look at the bright side statistically: Morneau is now batting a saucy .750, Castillo .600, Santana has a win, Nathan's got himself a save and a perfect zero under "ERA". The Twins sit in first place with Cleveland and Kansas City. And all is well, all is well... until tomorrow.
Conversations Real & Imagined: Talk Around the Dome
From a popular local Twins broadcaster to another: "Well, I'll tell you, Herb could eat. He could just flat-out eat!"
A college-age girl, shivering: "I think that the new stadium is proof that conservatives are finally getting it through their head that global warming is a reality. They're thinking it'll be like fucking Georgia in April by, what, 2010?"
One thug to his pal in the cheap seats: "I hope Morneau's on the juice, man. Hell, Bonds got away with it. I'll take 50 bombs from him, 50 from Cuddy, and 50 from Mauer, man. Give it to 'em, I say!"
Father to son: "Well, they had to take the giant milk jug away because the milk went bad. Remember how your milk smelt so bad the other day? That happens sometime."
An obviously drunk fellow staring at an ad on the Trinitron: "Man, John Gordon sure looks like Larry 'Bud' Melman, doesn't he?"