Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Three thoughts about what we saw during a cold, 12-hour day at the ballpark:
KEEP ON WALKING: It's been 18 years, almost to the day, since a team has drawn eight walks in one inning. And while that strange inning had more to do with Jays' relievers than Twins' hitters, it definitely continues a trend. Minnesota drew five walks in the first game, and a whopping 12 in the second game, easily propelling them to the AL lead once more. The Twins began the day third in the major leagues in on-base percentage, and I wouldn't be surprised, after 18 hits and 17 walks, if they're now on top. All the extra baserunners are the primary reason that the Twins are scoring a phenomenal number of runs; 16 more in today's doubleheader means they now average 5.73 runs per game -- heady stuff after scoring 3.80 last year. The Twins are on pace to score 928 runs this year, which would only crush their previous record (877 in 1996) by a whopping 51 runs. And their 886-walk pace (obviously juiced by the big night)? That would be a major-league record.
WALKING INTO TRIVIA: Not since 2006 had the Twins been awarded so many free bases, and that's a story, too: On Aug. 4, 2005, the Royals walked 12 Twins, and the very next day, they walked 14! And you have to go back to 1996 to find another dozen-walk game for the Twins. The franchise record, though, was set in 1969, when the Seattle Pilots walked 18 Twins in an 18-inning game, an 11-7 win on July 19. That game was also notable as the only start Jim Bouton (who walked only two) ever made for the Pilots; Bouton immortalized that season and that Pilots team in his classic book, Ball Four.
HE'S A RUNNER, TOO? Chris Colabello has been the Twins' best hitter all season, and going 5-for-7 in the doubleheader raised his average to .357. But the beefy first baseman shocked the small crowd in the second game by getting thrown out trying to steal second base. I figured it was a missed sign by Josmil Pinto, who was at the plate, but Colabello said he used to steal a dozen or so bases a year in independent ball, and he was inspired by Joe Mauer's stolen base earlier this week. So he waited until Pinto had two strikes, then tried a delayed steal, figuring the Blue Jays would never expect it. "I thought I could catch them off guard," he said with a shrug. "I thought we had a chance, but they made a tough play." Colabello is now 0-for-2 in his career.
If Ron Gardenhire had his way, the Twins would be in the fourth inning or so right now. After the Twins won Game 1, he said waiting three hours for the 6:10 p.m. start of Game 2 wouldn't be much fun.
"I wish we could go out and play again in 30 minutes, just like in high school," the Twins' manager said. After all, once the second game ends, the Twins will bus to the airport for their flight to Kansas City.
But that's not how modern major-league baseball works, so we wait and watch the grounds crew (and stadium cleaning crews) get the park ready for another game. Eduardo Nunez will start at third base in his first MLB game of the season.
The lineups for Game 2:
Update: Kyle Gibson pitched a four-hit shutout and the Twins scored five runs in the fifth inning to defeat Toronto 7-0 in the first game of today's day/night doubleheader.
Come back to startribune.com soon for more on today's opener.
Ron Gardenhire acknowledged when he received them that there's no way he'll ever smoke the 1,000 cigars the Twins presented him with to celebrate his 1,000th win as Twins manager. (Which is probably wise.) And the Twins' manager today showed us another gift he's unlikely to ever run out of. Gophers football coach Jerry Kill sent over 1,000 golf tees, with "April 5, 2014 -- 1000 wins" printed on each. Gardy seemed genuinely excited by the gesture, and likely can't wait to get to a golf course to use them.
It won't be today, of course, as the Twins' day is packed, with two baseball games and a flight to Kansas City. The stadium crew is busy clearing ice from the field and seating areas, remnants of yesterday's rain and snowstorm. It's 32 degrees at the moment, but dry and not very windy, so they'll get both games in, however uncomfortable.
Eduardo Nunez has not arrived yet, but he'll be here in time to play tonight's second game at 6:10 p.m., in uniform No. 9, the same worn by Larry Hisle, Gene Larkin, Mickey Hatcher and Ryan Doumit. He's the 26th man, under baseball rules that allow expanding the roster for the second game of a doubleheader.
Here are the lineups for today's first game, to be televised on FSN:
I'd be surprised, judging by the forecasts, if there is a baseball game in Target Field tomorrow, meaning that all-former-Mets matchup -- R.A. Dickey vs. Mike Pelfrey, the former Twin against the current one -- may be put off a day. In the meantime, here are three thoughts on tonight's 9-3 Twins loss:
COLD JUST WATCHING HIM: There were the caps with the Elmer Fudd earflaps, the stick-'em-up face-covering ski masks, the winter gloves under the fielding gloves. And then there was Phil Hughes, ignoring the freezing-temperature chill and pitching in short sleeves. The temperature at first pitch was 35 degrees, it dropped from there, yet the Twins' starter was in the same uniform he wore in sunny Fort Myers. "Always," he said of his sleeveless look. "I can't pitch in long sleeves." Wow. Wonder if he thought about that before deciding to sign with Minnesota.
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: It hasn't quite been the recurring theme it was last season, but chalk up this loss -- and the Twins' third failure this season to climb above .500 -- to their failure to capitalize on their opportunities. Minnesota scored in each of the first two innings, but left runners in scoring position both times. In the third, they had a runner on second with one out, but didn't score. In the fourth, they had a runner on third with one out, and failed again. Overall, the Twins went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and didn't collect a hit from Chris Colabello's leadoff single in the third to Eduardo Escobar's pinch-hit, two-out single in the eighth. Their third run came when the game was gone: Trevor Plouffe's ninth-inning homer. "If we could have had one big inning there in the middle, before [Toronto] got those runs, we might have put them away," Colabello said. "But that's the game sometimes."
STILL CLEANING UP: Speaking of Colabello, he had three hits in five at-bats Wednesday, and drove in a run in the first inning with a double. That's his 15th RBI on the season, putting him back in the AL lead. And the three hits were a career-high. "I'd trade all three hits for the win," he shrugged.
It's Jackie Robinson Day all over baseball. Here in Minnesota, it's also one of those Metrodome Appreciation Nights we have every year, where we bundle up and wonder why anyone would play baseball in weather this cold.
The Twins knew they were a little lucky last week, when the season-opening series with Oakland took place in 60-degree, and even 70-degree, temperatures. But just like last season, the mid-month games are running into some winter weather. It's 34 degrees at Target Field right now, and might drop into the 20s before tonight's game is over. The Twins took an abbreviated session of batting practice, but the Blue Jays chose to stick to the indoor batting cages.
Joe Mauer -- one of the few Twins players whose vanity doesn't prevent him from wearing a baseball cap with ear flaps -- said it's just part of being in the Twins' system, because every level has games like this one in April. The coldest game he's ever been a part of, he said, was in Beloit, Wis., when he was playing for Quad Cities. "Twenty-five degrees at the start, wind whipping from the outfield, nobody in the stands," he said. "But we played."
And he'll play tonight, too. Here are the lineups for the Twins' frigid series opener against the Blue Jays:
Stealing La Velle E. Neal III's format, here are three thoughts about the Twins' 4-3 win over Kansas City:
CORREIA DESERVED BETTER: Righthander Kevin Correia has been stellar in two of his three starts this season, but he still doesn't have a victory to show for it. The first one, in his April 2 debut at Chicago, was the fault of Minnesota's bullpen, which turned his 5-3 lead into a 7-6 loss. Sunday's no decision was his own fault, and he knows it; after Josmil Pinto's home run handed him a 2-0 lead in the seventh, Correia opened the eighth with a four-pitch walk to Mike Moustakas. "That's something that shouldn't happen," Correia said, especially since it was the beginning of a three-run rally. Lorenzo Cain singled, Alcides Escobar bunted, and Trevor Plouffe threw the ball into right field, ending Correia's good, but mildly disappointing, day.
AGGRESSIVELY NON-AGGRESSIVE: The Twins' on-base percentage has jumped from .312 as a team last year, 11th in the AL, to .342 this year, second in the league behind the White Sox. Their batting average is basically the same; the difference is enormous progress in their walk rate, from 3.3 per game in 2013 to 4.9 per game today. All those walks -- Minnesota has a league-leading 59 -- is a big reason why they lead the league in runs scored. But it's difficult for players to be too giddy about the trend; they are trained to collect hits, not walks, sabermetrics be damned. "We're an aggressive team, but it has to be controlled aggression. Know who's on the mound, where to look for one," Brian Dozier said. But he noted that the Twins' eighth-inning rally started with walks to Pedro Florimon (.067) and himself (.191), two guys who aren't hitting their way on base as much as they'd like. KC reliever Aaron Crow "threw me five breaking balls in a row, all in the dirt," Dozier said. "I might as well take them."
PINTO GETS HIS PITCH: Josmil Pinto may be a rookie, but he's no novice at the plate. Facing a veteran lefthander in Jason Vargas on Sunday, he saw mostly fastballs in drawing a second-inning walk, "and the second time, he showed me screwball and changeup," Pinto said. The Twins' DH hit into a double play, but learned what to look for in those two trips to the plate. When he came up in the seventh, "I tried to stay a little more relaxed, and think [about hitting] the other way," he said. But Vargas got behind right away, and "when you get 3-1 count, you've got to make some good contact." He looked for a fastball and pounced, sending the ball almost 400 feet into the left-field stands. An impressive adjustment.
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