The Twins would love to say they’ve raced out to a 2-0 record to open the season, but that isn’t accurate. They walked.
Undefeated after two games for the first time since 2007, Minnesota combined nine walks from Royals pitchers with a couple of blasts from Miguel Sano and Eduardo Escobar on Wednesday and romped — or casually sauntered — to a 9-1 victory over Kansas City.
Only 15,171 tickets, the fewest in Target Field history, were sold to the matinee game, and perhaps 10,000 or so fans were actually in the park. But those who showed up were treated to a repeat of Monday’s Opening Day formula: Let Royals pitchers search in vain for the strike zone, and let Sano demolish them if they find it. Seven walks were issued to the Twins on Monday, a total of 16 over two games, and nine of those free baserunners eventually scored.
The Twins couldn’t hide their pleasure in letting some other team fret over its shaky pitching staff.
“More walks than hits, but it works,” crowed manager Paul Molitor. “These guys understand that patience is part of the game and the more you get on base — it doesn’t matter in what fashion — it contributes to opportunities to score runs. But you’ve got to cash them in.”
Oh, they’ve got a pretty good cashier. Sano didn’t quite reach the seats this time, but nobody was complaining. With the Twins leading 3-1 and the bases loaded in the seventh inning (on a single and two walks, naturally), Sano laced a low-and-in fastball from Nate Karns off the top of the right-field scoreboard, missing a grand slam by about 2 feet. He hustled it into a three-run triple instead, giving the Twins a five-run cushion.
“A huge at-bat, to [hit it] out to right-center, which we all love to see,” Molitor said. “The more he can use the whole field, the more effective he’s going to be as a hitter.”
The lead got bigger moments later, when — after a walk to Jason Castro, in case you’re noticing a pattern — Eduardo Escobar lined a homer into the first row in left-center off West Fargo native Matt Strahm. That gave Escobar four RBI on the day; in the second inning, he drove in the first run of the game by singling home Sano, who had reached base via — bet you can guess — a walk.
“You don’t always have to hit it far to help the team,” Sano said, though those stratospheric blasts are certainly more fun. “If they don’t throw strikes, we can make them pay.”
That’s what Castro was doing, for sure. The Twins’ new catcher, who had two hits and a walk on Opening Day, epitomized the offense by standing and watching. Castro walked four times, one short of Roy Smalley’s 1978 franchise record, and scored twice.
“You can just tell when a hitter is kind of in a position where he’s really recognizing pitches, he’s not expanding [the strike zone], he’s taking good swings,” Molitor said. “[Castro is] getting on base, and when he’s had chances to hit pitches, he’s squaring them up. It’s a good start for him.”
It’s a good start for the Twins in general, and a welcome respite from their dispiriting stumbles to start the past couple of seasons. Hector Santiago followed up Ervin Santana’s solid start on Monday by giving up only one run in five innings, and the Twins’ bullpen stayed perfect with four more scoreless innings.
“If we can hold them to one run every day,” Molitor mused in victory, “I think we’ll have a good chance.”