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Inconsistency plagues Twins in first week

By Josh Newman
The Twins opened the 2009 Major League Baseball season showing all the characteristics of a young baseball team, including the one that usually ends up plaguing any team: inconsistency.

Minnesota opened with a four-game homestand against Seattle. In half of those games, the Twins struggled offensively, while in the other half, they were able to make connections with the ball. The end result? A split.

Games 1 and 4 were the two games in which the Twins struggled to put runs on the board, while the other two saw a mix of timely offense and defense that was good enough to support the runs the team posted. April 6, the Twins played their 29th and final home opener at the Metrodome before a sellout crowd of 48,514. Pitcher Francisco Liriano was solid, but suffered from a lack of run support. He allowed four runs in seven innings with no walks and three strikeouts, but was bested by Seattle starter Felix Hernandez. The righthander held the Twins to just one run on five hits in eight strong innings while striking out six.

Minnesota bounced back in the next two games, winning both by a score of 6-5. The first victory of the season saw a bit of drama. The Twins showed the kind of heart that champions show as they rallied from a two run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning. They were trailing 5-3 in what looked like another soon-to-be loss. That’s when center fielder Carlos Gomez drew a two-out walk off of Seattle closer Brandon Morrow. Pinch-hitters Jason Kubel and Brian Buscher continued to wear out Morrow by drawing another pair of walks to load the bases with two out.

Seattle replaced Morrow with Miguel Batista after the third walk, but he surrendered an infield single to right fielder Denard Span, which drove in Gomez and kept the bases loaded to cut the deficit to 5-4.

In walked Alex Casilla, and he responded by delivering a game-winning single that drive in the game’s final two runs and sent the crowd of 23,755 home satisfied.

Game 3 saw the Twins go up against former teammate Carlos Silva, and they countered with Kevin Slowey. Minnesota took an early 2-0 lead on a two-run homer by Justin Morneau, a hit that saw Morneau end an 0-for-8 slump to start the season. Morneau was not finished, though: he delivered another clutch hit in the fifth inning that capped the scoring, and the Twins rode solid pitching from there to a 6-5 victory to close the four-game series.

The Twins rode that momentum into their next series, a three-game road trip against the White Sox. It worked for the series opener, but fell off from there as Chicago won the final two games and dropped Minnesota ended the first week of the regular season with a 3-4 record.

Game 1 saw Morneau slap his second homer in as many games, as well as third baseman Joe Crede’s first home run of the season in the second inning as Minnesota batted around in a 12-5 victory.

The final score does not tell the whole story, however. The game was actually close until the seventh inning. Leading 4-3, the Twins pushed seven runs across the plate and batted through their entire order without recording a single out. It all started with Morneau’s home run, followed by three consecutive walks and five straight singles. The highlight of the inning was a pair of 2-RBI singles by left fielder Delmon Young and Nick Punto. Overall, Minnesota managed 15 hits off of four White Sox pitchers, including seven off of starter Jose Contreras.

However, that was all Minnesota would be able to muster for the week. In fact, over the next two games, the offense went just a combined 11-for-63, while the White Sox hit .292 against the Twins pitching staff. Over that time, Chicago smacked three homeruns and won 8-0 and 6-1, respectively.

In Game 2, it remained scoreless until the fourth inning, when the White Sox managed a run. But it was not until the fifth inning when things got out of control for Minnesota. It started when starting pitcher Francisco Liriano issued three walks and three hits in the inning, and the White Sox pushed four runs across the plate in the inning en rout to an easy 8-0 victory.

The final game saw a strong effort by Twins starter Nick Blackburn for the first five innings. He held Chicago scoreless for the first four before allowing a run in the fifth and two in the sixth inning. He was relieved by lefthander Craig Breslow in the seventh inning, and the offense was shut down by Chicago southpaw Mark Buehrle through 6.1 innings of work.

While the Twins were shut down offensively, they did not help themselves in the field, either. In the sixth inning, Crede botched a foul popup off the bat of Jim Thome, and Thome cashed in on the extra opportunity with a two-run homer. Overall, the Twins committed three errors and managed just five hits for the entire game.

Next week, the Twins have a seven-game homestand. It begins Monday with a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays, and continues after that with a three-game set against the Angels.


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