The Twins' pitchers had to work out of a ton of jams last night, and the offense almost came up empty, but they ended up with a crucial 2-1 victory in their series opener in Kansas City. The Royals stranded 14 runners over the course of the game, blowing several opportunities with runners in scoring position and less than two outs (a performance similar to the frustrating one the Twins put up in the same stadium last August).
The Twins were totally inept against mediocre starter Scott Elarton, collecting only two hits over 7 innings, but were finally able to break out in the 8th against Kansas City's weak bullpen. Royals' manager Buddy Bell mysteriously chose to send out Luke Hudson -- a pitcher good enough to be cut by the pitching-starved Cincinatti Reds this spring -- to protect a 1-0 lead in the 8th. The Twins collected three straight hits against Hudson, including a pinch-hit RBI single from Ruben Sierra that tied the game. That knocked Hudson out of the ballgame, and big southpaw Andy Sisco came in. Joe Mauer drilled a sacrifice fly to left that scored the go-ahead run, and Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan took care of the last two innings to seal the victory for the Twins.
Kyle Lohse picked up a quality start, holding the Royals to 1 run over 6 innings, but he struggled with his control, walking five (one intentional). This could be attributed to the cold and wet playing conditions, but they didn't seem to affect Elarton too much, as he dominated the Twins for 7 innings and walked only 2. Lohse didn't look overly impressive, but he did work out of some tough jams and gave the Twins a good chance to win. Francisco Liriano picked up his first win of the season, pitching a scoreless 7th.
While it was good to see the Twins put together another late comeback and get a clutch pinch hit from Sierra, the offensive ineptitude they displayed for the majority of the game was extremely frustrating. Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter have been absolutely awful lately, continually striking out in key situations. It was on full display last night, as the Twins put runners on first and third with no outs against Elarton in the 7th inning, only to have Hunter and Morneau deliver back-to-back strike outs, killing a potential rally. Morneau is hitless in his last 18 at-bats and is now hitting just .203 on the season. He has struck out 20 times and drawn only 4 walks. If you take out Hunter's 4-for-5, 6 RBI performance in the second game of the season, he is hitting only .174/.230/.362 with 7 RBIs -- truly terrible production from the middle of the lineup. Meanwhile, Rondell White batted cleanup last night and picked up a hit but is still batting just .155 on the season. White is 2-for-24 with runners in scoring position, with 7 strikeouts. If you want to know what's wrong with the Twins' lineup, you need look no further than the middle of the order. The 1-2-3 guys have been doing their job. Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo, and Joe Mauer each sport an on-base percentage upwards of .380. Unfortunately, the guys in the middle of the lineup have proven totally incapable when it comes to driving them in.
While it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world, it was a win. Tonight the Twins will look for another as they send out Scott Baker against Runelvys Hernandez, who will be making his first start of the year.
* By the way, did anyone else notice that White pulled a Tony Batista in his 7th inning at-bat and had his back pocket sticking out? I wonder if that was intentional...