DETROIT – For all the Twins’ intentions of making things different in 2015 — the Paul Molitor Twins, the we’re-turning-this-ship-around Twins — the initial results could not have been much more identical.
The 2014 season, and the Ron Gardenhire era, ended last September with a 3-0 loss to David Price in Detroit. The 2015 season, and the Paul Molitor era, opened Monday with a 4-0 loss to David Price in Detroit.
Welcome to the future.
“When you get beat by a good pitcher,” Molitor shrugged after dropping to 0-1 in his managerial career, “there’s not a lot you can do.”
He’s learning fast. Price retired the first 13 batters he faced, allowed only five harmless singles over 8 ⅔ innings, and handed the Twins their seventh consecutive Opening Day loss, in front of the fourth-largest crowd in Comerica Park history.
Counting the season finale six months ago, that’s 16 consecutive scoreless innings pitched against the Twins by Price; the Tigers have recorded zeros in 21 of the past 22 innings in which Price has faced Minnesota hitters.
The only thing different, actually, was all the Opening Day pomp — the unveiling of the Tigers’ division-champion pennant, the introductions, the Four Tops singing the anthem. Once the game began, everything was familiar. And yes, it’s only one game, yet it still felt deflating, given how confidently the Twins had come north, hoping to confound their many skeptics and reverse four disastrous seasons of losing.
“I don’t think [Twins players] are paying a lot of attention to what prognostications are, and what people are saying our team is capable and not capable of,” Molitor said. “They’re very focused and they’re ready to compete. It’s a transition here for us, including myself, but I think everyone is ready to go.”
Price made them stop. The lefthander, the first Tiger besides Justin Verlander to start an opener since 2007, got some help, most notably a leaping catch by left fielder Yoenis Cespedes that robbed Kurt Suzuki of a home run in the third inning and produced the day’s biggest roar from the announced 45,030 in attendance. But Price also kept Twins hitters continually frustrated, particularly the top of the order; the first four Twins in the lineup combined to go 0-for-13 until back-to-back two-out singles by Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer in the ninth cost Price a chance to become the first AL starter since Seattle’s Felix Hernandez in 2011 to pitch an Opening Day complete-game shutout.
Ex-Twin Joe Nathan struck out ex-Tiger Torii Hunter on a check swing for the save, though he complained afterward that home plate umpire Joe West missed the call. Molitor was less annoyed, but still disappointed by the sudden ending to a disappointing day.
“I would think that, unless you’re 100 percent sure on a swing, you would try to get some help” with the call, Molitor said. “Maybe he saw something we didn’t. … It’s tough, because you’re trying to find a way to hang in the game. Even though it didn’t look good, if Torii can get on somehow, you get the tying run up there. But he made the call and we’ve got to live with that.”
Phil Hughes wasn’t nearly as effective as Price — he even walked a batter, practically unthinkable a year ago. Worse, Hughes surrendered four extra-base hits, and each of them resulted in Tigers runs. Two were home runs in a shaky second inning, with J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila each walloping 88-miles-per-hour cut fastballs out of the park.
“I’d like to have two pitches back,” Hughes said. “I threw a couple cutters down the middle.”
Avila’s homer drove in Cespedes, who had doubled in his debut as a Tiger. Four innings later, Cespedes launched a fly ball that bounced off the center field fence, just out of reach of Jordan Schafer, for a triple. Nick Castellanos followed with a looper to short center that Schafer had to dive to catch, allowing Cespedes to tag up and score.
Hughes was done after six innings, allowing eight hits, a walk — his first in 23⅔ innings, dating to last Sept. 13 — and six strikeouts. J.R. Graham followed with two scoreless innings in his major league debut.
“We had a game plan against Price,” Molitor said, “but he got into a rhythm there. … He was good all day.”
The Twins trust that better ones are ahead.