Twins manager Paul Molitor, after witnessing the events of Thursday’s home opener, could describe it only one way.
“That was a classic,” Molitor said with a smile.
Actually, Molitor was referring to the hard right turn the bald eagle Challenger made on his way to the pitcher’s mound during the national anthem, when he briefly landed on the right shoulder of Seattle starter James Paxton, who was standing at attention in left field.
But Molitor might be forced to use the same description when speaking about how his team plays.
While beating the Mariners 4-2 at Target Field, the Twins showed how they might win a lot of games this season. They eventually got a big hit off the talented Paxton, unveiled their remodeled bullpen and flexed their long ball capabilities.
Home runs from Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver and Eddie Rosario helped the Twins win back-to-back home openers for the first time since 2010-11.
“We have played every game all the way through,” Molitor said. “We have trailed in some of the games we have been able to come back in.
“It would be nice to play from a lead with these guys.”
It gave an announced sellout crowd of 39,214 reasons to cheer on the second-coldest home opener in Target Field history. The game-time temperature was 38 degrees, the seventh sub-40 start since the park opened.
Until the late innings, the loudest cheers came when the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s curling team threw out the first pitch. There were cheers for Challenger, too — more like cries of bewilderment when the bird visited with the Canadian-born Paxton before his handler retrieved him.
The lefthander was not flummoxed one bit. He took the mound and began firing 98 mph fastballs while holding the Twins to two hits over the first five innings.
“Paxton was tough today,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said, “especially with the shadows.”
The Mariners scored twice in the first inning off Twins righthander Kyle Gibson. Dee Gordon scored from third when Sano fielded a grounder and threw wildly to home plate, and then Daniel Vogelbach added an RBI single.
Gibson was charged with one earned run over 4 ⅓ innings, but he labored and ended up with 80 pitches.
Paxton sailed until the sixth inning, when Joe Mauer slapped a 97 mph fastball to left for a single before Sano deposited a knuckle-curve over the wall in left to tie the game at 2-2 and end Paxton’s day.
“The pitcher made one mistake,” Sano said. “When he made a mistake, we got it.”
Garver blasted a 409-foot home run, the first of his major league career, in the seventh off Dan Altavilla. Then Rosario ripped a down-and-in pitch from Nick Vincent out to right in the eighth. The Twins have scored 17 of their 30 runs after the fifth inning.
Molitor activated his new late-inning relief corps after getting the lead. Zach Duke got two outs in the seventh. Addison Reed pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, striking out two and lowering opponents’ batting average against him to .063. Fernando Rodney gave up a walk in the ninth but still earned his first save as a Twin. The Twins bullpen is on a run of 13 ⅓ scoreless innings.
The ability to keep games close and score with one swing of the bat are good traits to have, and the Twins hope those traits stick with them all season.
“We hung in there,” Molitor said. “We battled. We found a way back in the game with Miggy’s homer and added on a couple more.”