The Opener

It seems as if our offense and pitching can’t get on the same page.

It seems that when the pitching staff has a great night on the mound, the offense is no where to be seen. It also works vice versa as our offense explodes, our pitching staff implodes. Such is life in this crazy beginning to 2006.

Last night was no exception as the Twins opened the doors to the Metrodome for the home opener. As we grabbed our free magnet schedule and ugly hat courtesy of WFTC (which was quite obvious as they plastered their logo on the front which appeared to be the same size as the Twins logo) and walked through the turn styles, we got our first feel of the new season.

And for me, it felt good.

As my friends and I sat watching batting practice, eagerly anticipating the first pitch, everything felt right again and all the troubles the Twins brought back from Toronto and Cleveland seemed to not matter anymore, at least for tonight. Tonight was all about cheering on the Minnesota Twins.

Before the game started, there was a tribute to former Twin and Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. Twins announcer Dick Bremer walked us through some of the highlights of Kirby’s great career and introduced former teammate Jack Morris. It was a nice tribute to Kirby as they showed his number 34 on the turf in center field (that will only remain through the first homestand) and his retired number 34 will also appear behind home plate to go along with his retired #34 on the banner in right field. It was a very nice tribute to the greatest Minnesota Twin of all time.

As for the game, things got off to a bumpy start as Radke got out of the first inning safely, but then got roughed up in the second giving up a lead off homer to Eric Chavez. The A’s would finish the inning scoring two more runs off a double from Nick Swisher and then shortstop Bobby Crosby hit a solo shot in the third. The Twins suddenly were in a 4-0 hole. That’s when the bats came to life.

The third inning went well for the Twins as they strung together five straight one-out hits and scored three runs as they drew within a single run of Oakland. Tony Batista would then go on to hit a three-run shot over the left field wall to put the Twins up 6-4 as the Metrodome erupted with cheers. That’s exactly the type of thing Batista was brought in for. Where he lacks in defense at third, he can certainly make up for in power.

Justin Morneau would go on to tack on another run with his third home run of the season to put the Twins up 7-4. That’s when things got a little scary as Jesse Crain came into the game in the top of the 8th. He gave up a leadoff single to Crosby before throwing a pitch to Eric Chavez that he promptly put over the wall in right center field for his second of the game. That’s when the crowd grew a bit nervous. Crain was able to get out of the inning with the Twins 7-6 lead still intact.

Twins closer Joe Nathan was called in for the 9th in his first save attempt of the season. Despite being squeezed by the umpire with some very questionable calls, he would go on to strike out one and walk one as he slammed the door on Oakland to give the Twins the 7-6 victory.

While this hasn’t completely turned the season around for the Twins, it definitely was nice to come out of the home opener with a win. The Twins offense came through in a big way and so did its defense as fantastic diving plays in the field by Luis Castillo and Michael Cuddyer put ends to Oakland rallies. The pitching became the only question mark of the night.

While Brad Radke pitched relatively well to pick up the victory giving up four runs in 7 innings, it was the bullpen work of Jesse Crain that was shaky. Crain who led all relief pitchers last season with 12 victories stumbled a bit last night with a crushing home run that could have been more damaging had it not been for the solo home run by Morneau back in the 5th.

The thing that worries me most is that the rotation and bullpen were supposed to be the solid parts of this Twins team this season yet they have been very inconsistent. The offense, while it has shown signs of life, still has been up and down as they showed in Cleveland over the weekend. It’s still too early to put a label on the pitching staff or lineup as both have shown ups and downs over the first 7 games of the season.

While we are forced to take the “wait and see” approach while the players settle into the new season, I for one am still hopeful that the Twins can retake control of the Central Division and win their fourth division title in five years. If they stick to doing what they do well (pitching and defense), I think they will be just fine in the end.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

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