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Danny Valencia (19) and Denard Span celebrated at the end of Friday's victory, in the Twins' home opener.

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Twins make it worth the wait

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • April 9, 2011 - 12:09 AM

Twins closer Joe Nathan wanted some Metrodome magic with him for Friday's home opener, so he took a handful of dirt he'd saved from the old mound at the Dome and sprinkled it onto the mound at Target Field.

Nathan missed the inaugural season in the new ballpark while recovering from elbow surgery. By the time he made his entrance, he realized the new ballpark has a new magic unto itself.

The proof came in the eighth inning, when the Twins finally awoke to score two runs off Oakland lefthander Brett Anderson with a series of seeing-eye hits. Suddenly, the Twins had the lead, and it was Nathan's turn to pitch.

"I was pretty calm," Nathan said, "until I got through the [bullpen] door."

The noise was electrifying, Nathan said, and the sellout crowd of 40,714 grew louder as he put the finishing touches on the 2-1 victory.

After winning an American League-best 53 home games last year, the Twins were right back in their element.

It took the hitters a while, but the familiar surroundings seemed to help Carl Pavano early, when he needed them most.

Oakland scored its only run in the first inning, thanks to a walk, a wild pitch, an errant pickoff throw by Pavano and a sacrifice fly by David DeJesus.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson had some strong words for Pavano after the righthander was late covering first base on Cliff Pennington's third-inning infield single.

"I think Andy jumped his [butt] a little bit, about him being a little lethargic out there," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Sometimes you overcompensate. You don't want to be too excited, and Andy got on him a little bit, told him to pick up the pace."

Pavano, who won last year's home opener against Boston, settled into a groove. He retired 17 of the final 19 batters he faced and finished the eighth inning.

"I was a little anxious at the beginning of the game," Pavano said. "I didn't pitch well in my first start [at Toronto], and we needed a win."

After a 2-4 road trip to start the season, the Twins returned from Toronto and New York feeling the pressure. They thought Target Field would put them at ease, but Anderson still had a 1-0 lead after the seventh inning and had allowed only three balls out of the infield.

Finally in the eighth inning -- a breakthrough. With one out, Danny Valencia reached on an infield single. With two outs, Gardenhire used Jason Kubel to pinch hit for Alexi Casilla, even though that meant sending a lefthanded hitter to face Anderson.

"With a man on first, Kube can hook a ball, so you take your shot there," Gardenhire said. "Plus, he was the best hitter on the bench."

Kubel, who hit the first home run at Target Field in last year's home opener against Boston, pulled a single through the right side of the infield, just as Gardenhire hoped, sending Valencia to third base.

Denard Span tied it with a single through that same hole between first and second. The Twins kept sending lefthanded hitters to the plate, so Oakland manager Bob Geren stuck with Anderson, who'd thrown 105 pitches by the time Joe Mauer stepped to the plate.

"[Anderson] had great stuff," Mauer said. "Late in the game, a lot of pitchers will go away from hitters. I was looking for something to drive the other way, and I was able to get it by the third baseman."

Mauer's hit bounced past A's third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, scoring pinch runner Matt Tolbert. It was another bouncer through the infield, a Twins specialty at the Metrodome.

"You know -- Twins fashion," Span said. " It never gets old around here to have a win like that.''

And this time, Nathan could be a part of it.

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