KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If you're looking for a hopeful harbinger of the season to come — and who isn't on Opening Day? — the Twins could hardly find a better portent than this: They held their opponent to just two hits in the season's first game on Thursday, a 2-0 victory over the Royals, only the second time in franchise history their pitching has been so stout on Day One.
The other? A José Berríos/Taylor Rogers two-hitter against Cleveland in 2019, the first win in a season that included 101 of them.
"I wish it was at home. That would be pretty electric for us," said Trevor Larnach, who provided the game-winning hit. "The main thing is we came back, started off a little slow, but got the W."
They did it just the way they drew it up this winter, too.
The Twins, who made adding depth to the pitching rotation and bench their priority during a busy offseason, got 5⅓ shutout innings from new starter Pablo López, plus a rally-extending walk and run-scoring single from newcomers Kyle Farmer and Donovan Solano. Joey Gallo and Michael A. Taylor made important defensive plays, too, as Minnesota won its opener for only the fifth time in 15 seasons.
"A lot of emotions [out there], a lot of butterflies," said López, the only member of the Twins' rotation who had never started an opener. "But once I got on the mound, it was just about doing my job. Once I'm on that mound, it's not about Opening Day, it's about executing every single pitch."
He executed plenty of them. López got 13 swing-and-misses among the 50 strikes he threw in his Twins debut, eight of them on his brand-new slider, and became the first Twins starting pitcher since Brad Radke, exactly 20 years ago Friday, to earn an Opening Day victory on the road. The former Marlin allowed a single and a double, plus three walks, while striking out eight. López twice worked out of trouble after putting Royals runners in scoring position with less than two outs.
"What else do you want?" admired Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. "[He's got a] competitive nature, and he executed really well. His stuff was excellent and he was composed and he did a really nice job."
López's biggest jam came in the fifth inning, when he walked Bobby Witt Jr. to load the bases with one out, then threw three consecutive balls to Royals outfielder MJ Melendez. He came back to make the count 3-2, then fooled Melendez with an outside changeup, which the batter tapped up toward first base.
Gallo raced in to field the ball and throw it home to prevent a run, and Christian Vázquez relayed it to Gordon covering first to throw out Melendez and end the threat.
"Big play," Baldelli said. "We might still be playing right now if they don't find a way to make that play."
López's ability to work out of trouble came in handy, because the Twins were masterful at stranding runners, too. Three times they left the bases loaded, and only in the sixth inning, when K.C. starter Zack Greinke tired, did Minnesota capitalize on its chances.
The catalyst, as seemingly always, was Byron Buxton, who drove a Greinke sinker into deep right-center, just out of the reach of center fielder Kyle Isbel's dive, and easily reached third base for a leadoff triple. Larnach followed with a sharp single to left that scored the game's — and season's — first run. And after Jose Miranda popped out in foul territory, new Royals manager Matt Quatraro ended Greinke's seventh Opening Day start.
When he brought in lefthander Amir Garrett, Baldelli showed off his newly acquired depth, sending the righthanded Farmer to hit for Nick Gordon, and righthanded Donovan Solano to hit for Joey Gallo. Farmer drew a five-pitch walk, and Solano delivered a single to left, scoring Larnach with an insurance run.
"Our guys, the skills they have, they fit very well together right now," the manager said. "It's not that easy to come in off the bench in a big spot, have a good at-bat, draw a walk, line a ball somewhere. But these guys, that's what they do. They've done it very successfully so you trust them."
The extra run turned out to be surplus, because the bullpen also operated as planned. López was lifted with one out in the sixth inning in favor of Caleb Thielbar, who retired all three hitters he faced. Jorge López, Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran didn't allow a run, either, and the Twins had their first Opening Day victory since 2020.
"The [pinch-hitters] came in and did a good job, and the bullpen was great," Baldelli summed up. "We're naming almost everyone today, but the truth is, we needed all of that to win."