The Twins’ first two home series couldn’t have been much more different. They were swept in three games by the Oakland A’s, outscored 21-8, and fell to 3-6 this season. Then, on Sunday, they completed a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals, outscoring them 21-5.
Last season, the Twins were 4-15 against the Royals and didn’t sweep a three-game series until June 18-20 against the White Sox.
After the A’s series, many were predicting another disaster of a year for the Twins, but the Kansas City sweep gave some hope for big improvement in the team’s 195-291 record from the past three years.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire — who missed the first two games of the Royals series while in Ohio attending the funeral of Mike Hirschbeck, son of major league umpire John Hirschbeck — was asked what the big difference was between the Twins’ first two home series.
“We didn’t play very well against Oakland,” he said. “They’re a good baseball team and they had something to do with that, but the first two games we came out swinging very aggressive here, and Oakland, they pitch well [and] swing the bats very well against us. We didn’t pitch very good and every mistake, they killed it.
“Two different ballclubs, and we came out with a little bit of fire here in this series and watching from afar, these guys got on a roll and we got a little excited early and you get on a run there. Oakland got us pretty good. We had a chance to win one or two of the games against Oakland and didn’t get it done. You’re playing very good baseball teams right now, you make mistakes and they’ll kill you.”
The big difference in the Kansas City series was starting pitching.
Kyle Gibson had his second good outing, giving up only one run over 6⅓ innings in the 10-1 victory in the series opener. Ricky Nolasco, who had given up 10 runs over 10 innings in his first two starts against Chicago and Cleveland, allowed only one run over eight innings in beating the Royals 7-1. And Kevin Correia, who allowed six runs over 5⅔ innings against Oakland, was much improved against the Royals on Sunday, allowing three runs over seven-plus innings in a 4-3 victory, with all of those runs coming in the eighth.
Gardenhire talked about Correia’s performance Sunday.
“He threw the ball great,” Gardenhire said. “You know you feel terrible because you end up trying to stop it there and try to not give up those runs and he ends up giving up the lead [in the eighth]. But he did what he was supposed to do, everything he was supposed to do, and gave us a great opportunity.”
The most important part for Gardenhire was getting a series sweep against a team that beat the Twins repeatedly in 2013, especially after being swept by the A’s.
“It’s about winning series, winning ballgames. and that’s a nice one,” he said. “That team has handled us pretty good the last couple years, and that’s a good, young baseball team over there that can do some things. As we talked about before the game, taking care of our home field and getting back to winning baseball here is really important for us. So we have a nice sweep here of the Royals and we get a day off [Monday] and then we got Toronto coming in to see if we can keep rolling.”
Gophers hockey loss
When you are looking for reasons why the Gophers hockey team played so poorly when they had a chance to win the NCAA title last weekend at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia — after being ranked No. 1 in the country most of the season, they lucked out in the semifinals against North Dakota with a goal in the final second before giving up three goals in a span of 1 minute, 54 seconds late in the first period of a 7-4 loss to Union in the championship game — you go to Mr. Hockey himself, former Gophers player and ex-North Stars player, coach and general manager Lou Nanne.
“We weren’t very good defensively in our own zone,” he explained. “We just didn’t clean the front of the net. We had a lot of rebounds. We didn’t get to them, we didn’t take the man out, we didn’t block out in front of the net and we certainly didn’t move the puck out as well as we could.
“I think overall Union played better than us. There is no doubt about it. They’re a good team, they’re a mature team, they’re older, and that team played very, very well. It wasn’t our best game and they played their game. If you’re not going to play your best against a team like that, you’re not going to win.”
Still, Nanne concluded that the Gophers, who had eight freshmen in their lineup, had a great season.
“When you look at it, you have to say the Gophers had a terrific year, but in the last game of the year, they didn’t play as well as they could have,” he said. “When you don’t play as well as you can, you’re going to lose in that championship game.”
With most of the team coming back next season, the lessons learned in the NCAA tournament should give the Gophers a better chance to go all the way next season.
• More than 90 percent of Twins full season-ticket holders have purchased their seats for the 2014 All-Star Game events at Target Field. Twins partial season-ticket holders will have the opportunity to purchase All-Star Game ticket strips this week. Following that, the Twins will work with MLB to confirm remaining inventory for all events. Whatever is left will be sold to the general public in May, drawing from fans already signed up for an opportunity.
• Former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber, who has pro experience with Denver and Tampa Bay, had a tryout last week with the Bears. Weber had worked with Marc Trestman before Trestman became the Bears’ head coach.
• Twelve of the 27 players the Gophers signed this past spring showed up at Saturday’s spring game at TCF Bank Stadium, even though they had to pay their own way here. … Jonah Pirsig, the Blue Earth tackle who two years ago was one of the top recruits in the state, then redshirted in 2012 and is coming back from wrist and knee injuries after playing in seven games last season, is healthy again and took part in the spring game. … Redshirt junior Jon Christenson, who started the first nine games at center for the Gophers last season until he broke his leg in the Indiana game, hopes to be able to play again this fall.
Weber did color commentary for play-by-play announcer Dave Lee of WCCO radio for the spring game. Former Gophers defensive back Justin Conzemius was the field announcer during the Big Ten Network telecast of the game. … Tight end Matt Spaeth, one of the ex-Gophers who took part in the alumni game Saturday, is back with the Steelers (who drafted him originally in 2007) after he spent two years with the Bears.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com