CHICAGO – So much for hitters needing more at-bats to get their timing down, that the baseballs were going to be de-juiced and that Max Kepler should no longer be the leadoff hitter.
The pandemic-delayed Opening Day for the Twins — a 10-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field — looked and sounded a lot like many games from a season ago. The only issue for the Twins on Friday was that staff ace Jose Berrios didn’t have it, giving up five runs in four innings.
But the offense picked up where it left off, collecting 11 hits, drawing five walks and forcing six Chicago pitchers to throw 149 pitches through the first seven innings. The White Sox also used eight pitchers in a game that, at 3 hours and 31 minutes, was the longest nine-inning opener in Twins history.
The Twins were questioned about their swings being sharp after two-plus weeks of intrasquad games. Their answer: They punished Chicago righthander Lucas Giolito for four runs in the first inning — and it didn’t take long for the muscles to flex.
“We discussed the fact that with the short spring training you really never know what you’re going to get with limited at-bats and things like that, but our guys have prepared themselves very well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “They are up to speed.”
Moments after several Twins players and coaches knelt on the field during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice, Giolito — 14-9 with a 3.61 ERA last season — kicked and fired the first pitch of the season, a fastball on the inner half of the plate to Kepler. The Twins right fielder was ready and bombas away, as he rocketed the pitch over the right field fence.
First pitch, 7:15 p.m.
First hit, 7:15 p.m.
First run, 7:15 p.m.
No problems with Kepler leading off. Just leave Luis Arraez and his .399 on-base percentage from last season in the 9-hole.
“Our motto is go out there an attack,” Kepler said. “If I’m getting something good to hit, I’m going to hit it and put my best swing on it. Since last year, I got that approach from Nelson [Cruz]. Just be more aggressive, take your swing early. We have 60 games, we really have to get our swings in early. I was ready.”
The Twins added a sacrifice fly by Mitch Garver and a two-out, two-run single by Jake Cave to take a 4-0 lead.
Chicago scored in the bottom of the inning, but Kepler came up with one out in the second and blasted a 407-foot home run to right-center for his second homer in as many innings. The Twins led 5-1 and were making it look easy in a stadium with cardboard cutouts of fans behind home plate and both dugouts, and artificial crowd noise being pumped in.
But Berrios struggled with location. It caught up with him in the second inning. After a run scored on a wild pitch, Berrios gave up a 435-foot three-run homer to Yoan Moncada that tied the score.
Jorge Polanco broke the tie with a two-out, two-run single in the fourth off reliever Evan Marshall. The Twins added three runs in the seventh, getting their third two-out, two-run single of the game, this one coming from Arraez.
Berrios gave up five runs over four innings seven hits and a walk with one strikeout — the strikeout coming on the 18th batter he faced. The Twins bullpen carried the lead into the late innings, and the offense was, well, the offense.
“We went out there and put some runs up early,” Baldelli said. “And that puts everyone in a good place. The confidence is high because of it. It always helps. It comes down to preparation and being ready from the first pitch, and we were.”