MILWAUKEE – A walkoff loss is back to being doubly painful to endure now that fans are back in the baseball stands.
And that loss stings even more when the one area the Twins felt they had covered — defense — failed them as they watched the Brewers celebrate on Opening Day.
There were 11,740 supporters, some of them tailgating before the game, spread around American Family Field. There was energy. The Twins took a lead. Byron Buxton hit a homer. New reliever Hansel Robles hit 98 mph on the gun. Max Kepler was a home run shy of the cycle while being heckled by spectators in right field.
But in the end, two errors and two glaring missed plays in the field cost the Twins in a 6-5, 10-inning loss.
"I'm not saying they were all very straightforward plays, but we had a pretty good opportunity to win the game," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We can make those plays, even the challenging ones, but we had an opportunity to win the game.
"We didn't come through and sometimes when you don't make the plays like that, that's what's going to happen."
The two missed plays were tough ones to execute. The two errors were ill-timed.
Luis Arraez raced in from third base in the third inning and tried to make a one-handed stab of Avisail Garcia's slow roller but failed to pick it up cleanly. That loaded the bases with two outs and forced Twins starter Kenta Maeda to throw an extra 15 pitches in the inning. Four of those pitches walked Travis Shaw to force in the Brewers' first run.
The Twins led 3-1 in the fifth when Miguel Sano fielded a routine grounder with one out and a runner on first, then made a routine throw to second. But shortstop Andrelton Simmons dropped the throw, and two runners were safe. Two singles later, Milwaukee had its second run.
Late-hour sunlight through the glass at the stadium caused a shadow near first base, so was it hard to pick up the ball? Did Simmons lose the ball because the runner shielded him? Was Simmons wondering why the stadium was no longer called Miller Park?
"It's a fairly straightforward play," Baldelli said, "but things can get crossed up out there."
Maeda was removed from the game after Simmons' error, denying him a chance to qualify for a win that never materialized. Simmons appeared to communicate something to Maeda as the infield gathered on the mound and waited for Baldelli's hook.
"He knew what he did there," Maeda said. "I was able to tell that."
The Twins still carried a three-run lead into the ninth. Fans had little to cheer about at that point. In fact, they booed extensively when the traditional sausage race wasn't done live but was recorded. It was the loudest they were all afternoon — until Twins fielders changed their mood in the ninth.
Closer Alexander Colome entered with a 5-2 lead but hurt himself. He tried for a force play at second that wasn't there, and threw wildly for an error. With two runners on, Kepler chased Christian Yelich's drive toward the right-center gap and watched the ball pop out of his glove as he jumped for it, allowing the first of three runs to score to tie the game and force extra innings.
The Twins' biggest offseason addition wasn't a power hitter, or another run producer, or a top-end starter. They bought a glove in Simmons. He was signed to give the Twins an excellent left side of the infield with third baseman Josh Donaldson. The move pushed Jorge Polanco to second, theoretically strengthening that position.
Run prevention was the goal. With a dangerous offense and above-average pitching staff on hand, the Twins sought other ways to improve.
It should work for a majority of the season. And it will be done in style many times, as Simmons has the requisite flair for a top shortstop. And Buxton and Donaldson will entertain, too.
It just didn't happen Thursday. And there was a stadium with fans to let them know it.