BALTIMORE – What a day for debuts. The Twins’ newly acquired starting pitcher gave up only two hits in six innings, their newly signed lefthanded reliever struck out four batters in one inning, and their newly added setup man barely broke a sweat in retiring all six batters he faced. Their newly anointed closer even rescued the Twins from a bases-loaded, extra-inning cliff. Whew, what else could the Twins ask for from their fresh crop of pitchers?
Oh, right: a win.
Jake Odorizzi struck out seven in six shutout innings, Zach Duke flustered the Orioles with four whiffs in his first inning, and Addison Reed turned in two perfect innings. But Baltimore took advantage of an extra out to score twice against Duke, and took advantage of a first-pitch-fastball mistake by Fernando Rodney, with Adam Jones blasting it into the left field seats to deliver a 3-2, 11-inning victory over the Twins on a gorgeous March afternoon at Camden Yards.
“There were some strange things, but when you look at it overall, what we proved is that if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging and not make it easy on you,” Duke said. “We battled. That’s kind of the signature of this team.”
Maybe so, but recent history says, so is losing on Opening Day. The earliest game in Twins history ended with the team falling to 0-1 for the ninth time in 10 seasons, despite a small-ball ninth-inning rally to send the game to extra innings, and a dramatic 10th-inning double play to keep it there. Rodney inducted that critical ground ball, getting Jonathan Schoop to hit a 2-2 fastball directly at Eduardo Escobar, who threw to the plate to start an inning-ending double play.
Rodney’s next pitch, however, the first one of the Orioles’ 11th inning, was on the inside corner to Jones, who belted it 350 feet for his third career walkoff homer.
“He’s an ambusher, we’ve seen it,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. Rodney was “probably just trying to get in a good spot and get ahead, get a foul ball or a swing-and-miss. But [Jones] didn’t miss it.”
Usually he does, at least against Rodney, who had never given up a homer to Jones in 17 previous meetings. “I know he’s a free-swinging guy, but I missed my location on the pitch,” said Rodney, who at 41 became the oldest reliever to appear in a Twins game since Terry Mulholland in 2004. “I’ve seen Adam Jones for a long time, and it was the first long ball off me.”
It was all the Orioles needed, though, mostly because the Twins couldn’t solve Baltimore starter Dylan Bundy. The righthander mowed down the Twins with ease, surrendering only five singles during his seven innings and never allowing a Minnesota baserunner to reach third.
He got a little help, of course, particularly from outfielder Craig Gentry. Eddie Rosario led off the second inning by blasting a fastball over the right field wall, but Gentry reached over the fence to prevent the home run and keep the Twins off the scoreboard. That kept the game scoreless until Duke bounced a strike-three curveball to Trey Mancini past catcher Jason Castro in the seventh. After two more strikeouts and an intentional walk to Danny Valencia, Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph cracked his third career triple to the wall in right-center, a Duke mistake that momentarily appeared to doom the Twins.
The Twins mounted only one serious threat all day, and it came in the ninth inning, long after Bundy’s day had ended. Baltimore closer Brad Brach surrendered a one-out infield hit to Rosario, then walked Logan Morrison. Brach struck out Eduardo Escobar, then walked Max Kepler to load the bases, and Molitor made a going-with-his gut move, inserting Robbie Grossman to pinch hit for Byron Buxton. Grossman came through by looping a sinking fly ball in front of Jones in center, scoring two runs and sending the Twins to their first extra-inning opener since 2004.
“He got a little bit of a break, that the pitch got in on him but he hit it in a good spot,” Molitor said. “I had a good feeling he was going to put it in play.”
It was just a momentary reprieve, however. The Twins, well aware that a crushing walkoff Opening Day loss here to the Orioles two years ago quickly mushroomed into an 0-9 start and a 103-loss season, now have a day to regroup before Saturday night’s rematch.
“Unfortunate to end that way. We put up a good effort, a really good effort,” Odorizzi said hopefully. “Hopefully the results will be better in the future, but a lot of good stuff today.”