The Twins’ two most expensive free-agent acquisitions last winter cost a combined $99 million, though it’s a rather lopsided split. In their first game in their new home park, those investments, both big and small, began paying dividends.
Homer Bailey, the $7 million righthander, gave up two runs over five innings in his Minnesota debut, and Josh Donaldson, who will collect the other $92 million (at least), drove in two runs with a sacrifice fly and an opposite-field home run as the Twins won their Target Field opener for the fourth consecutive season, 6-3 over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday.
“Yeah, that’s probably the first of many,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP who started the season with only one hit in 10 at-bats — albeit with four walks — in Chicago. “He always has a lot of energy, so you can never really tell if it’s extra energy or just normal. But I’ll tell you, he’s had really good at-bats throughout.”
No. 3 hitter Jorge Polanco also provided his first home run of the season, crushing a Carlos Martinez pitch onto the vacant right-field plaza to cap a five-run second inning, and the Twins improved to 3-1 in this long-delayed 2020 season.
The Twins battered Martinez, who is returning to the St. Louis rotation after serving as closer last year, with six hits in the first two innings, and Donaldson ended Martinez’s night two innings later by lifting a middle-of-the-plate fastball onto the overhang in right field.
“Using the whole field at it, too. That right field porch can definitely be your friend if you stay on the ball and drive it that way, and that’s what we get to see,” Baldelli said. “It’s nice.”
It was the 11th Target Field homer in Donaldson’s career, but the first that produced cheers by the home crowd.
Wait, no it didn’t. Target Field was eerily empty, as it figures to be throughout this nine-week season. It probably made sense that the most memorable noise of the night was a moment of silence. The game was halted in the fifth inning at 8:46 p.m., to memorialize George Floyd and the 8 minutes, 46 seconds that ended his life.
“I felt like it was different,” Donaldson said. “I think it was needed.”
The Twins’ 60th home opener in Minnesota began with plenty of ceremonies, remembrances and demonstrations, including Baldelli, six players and a coach kneeling during the national anthem, all of it for a television audience instead of a live one. Then the game began and quickly settled into the pattern of the Twins’ season-opening series with the White Sox: Big inning early, and little chance of change in the outcome as the game wore on.
With no fans, none of the usual trappings of Opening Day — bunting draped over the upper decks, teams lined up for introductions, even an Air National Guard flyover — were needed, but the Twins gamely staged them anyway. During the game, however, each pivotal moment was greeted only by fake and faint cheers.
There is a home-run siren in the ballpark to fill some of the silence this year, but that addition was lost on Donaldson.
“I honestly don’t remember hearing it,” he said. “I was pretty excited running around the bases, but I’ll listen for it next time.”
There was no siren for St. Louis’ two homers, just a stunned oh-no stillness. In the case of Tyler O’Neill’s fifth-inning blast off Bailey, his only real mistake of the night, it was in awe of the 438-foot trajectory into the seats above the bullpens.
In the case of Byron Buxton’s not-quite-a-catch of a Tommy Edman’s eighth- inning homer off Trevor May, it was a hold-your-breath moment as he lay in the dirt at the base of the wall. Buxton was unhurt, but angry that he mishandled the catchable fly ball.
“He’s going to want to make the play every time. Not almost every time. Every time,” Baldelli said. “He expects to make every play. … Like, that’s who he is. He may be the best outfielder in the world.”