1. Watching it live, I thought Trevor Plouffe had butchered a force out at third base in the fourth inning, a play that scored Baltimore's second run. But after checking out the replay and talking to him after the game, I realize that Plouffe was no different from a pitcher scrambling over to cover first base while trying to catch a throw on the run. And his was even more difficult, because he was backing up.
Bases were loaded when J.J. Hardy chopped a ball to Eduardo Escobar at short. The grounder was too soft to turn a double play, and Escobar was moving to his right, so it was a tough play at first, too. So he took the short play to Plouffe at third for the force.
Trouble was, Plouffe had taken a step toward the ball when it was hit, so he had to retreat back to the base while keeping his eyes glued to Escobar. That's not easy.
"I'm blind to the bag, basically. I'm trying to find it, trying to rely on instincts to get back there," Plouffe said. Replays suggested that Plouffe grazed the bag with his right foot, but umpire Phil Cuzzi didn't think so, and neither did Plouffe. He tried to tag Chris Davis as he slid into the bag, but with his momentum carrying him away from the base, Plouffe could only reach Davis once he was on the bag.
It scored a run, but Liam Hendriks prevented further damage by getting a strikeout and two popups on the next three hitters.
2. That play aside, small plays on defense were still nicking the Twins on Friday. The most notable was on Adam Jones' double in the fifth inning, in which Aaron Hicks didn't seem to realize the ball was carrying all the way to the fence until too late.
"I just think he crushed it," Ron Gardenhire said. "We saw a couple of balls out there that flew pretty good."
Hicks recovered quickly and got the ball into the infield in time, it appeared, to throw out Nick Markakis at the plate. But Ryan Doumit had trouble with the relay throw, and it bounced away, allowing Jones to move up to third base.
3. Count this game as an example of how modern bullpen roles, and the care that teams now take with their relievers' arms, handcuff major-league managers.
The Orioles' eighth-inning rally might not have happened had the Twins' setup man, Jared Burton, been available, but the team is understandably being cautious, particularly early in the year, with a pitcher who has a history of shoulder problems. Burton threw 12 pitches on Wednesday and 10 on Thursday, and the Twins are trying to avoid using him three games in a row. So Gardenhire was left to, as he said, "try to basically figure out ... how to get through our bullpen as best we possibly could with match-ups, and not kill everybody."
That's also why he used Tyler Robertson instead of Glen Perkins in the eighth inning; closers are almost universally reserved for the ninth inning in today's game, and no manager wants to overuse his best relievers in Week 1. He just didn't expect Robertson to give Davis such a hittable pitch. No wonder Gardenhire said afterward, "We were a little beat up in our bullpen. ... We just need our starter to go deeper into the ballgame."