Wilkin & The Kids: Twins 9, Orioles 2
Wilkin Ramirez has had to demonstrate a lot of patience in his career. The 28-year-old finally made his way onto an Opening Day roster last year, only to have his season shortened by a concussion and ended by a broken tibia. But the Twins were patient too, re-signing him this offseason. Maybe he could surprise them again, like he did last spring training?
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Wilkin & The Kids: Twins 9, Orioles 2
Or maybe it shouldn't be a surprise any more. Surrounded by Twins prospects in the late innings of a tie game with the Orioles, Ramirez delivered the decisive blow: a three-run blast over left center in a staggering ninth inning. The kids surprised too, finishing with a 9-2 win after being handed a 1-2 deficit in the late innings from the starting lineup.
"I didn't have to start managing until I got the starters out of here," joked manager Ron Gardenhire. "That's what I just told those guys. 'You guys are in here high-fiving, but we didn't do nothing until you guys got out of the game.'"
That's not entirely true. Vance Worley started the game and got some good things done: specifically, he threw strikes. Determined to put a miserable 2013 behind his, he's come into camp completely healthy, lighter and with confidence in his arm slot, which is something he couldn't say last year. He threw two scoreless innings, although he was helped by an over-the-outfield-wall catch by Darin Mastroianni. Ron Gardenhire liked what he saw.
"I liked what he did," said Gardenhire. "He had a good angle going down. He threw some really nice tight breaking balls that were down in the zone. Worked fast. Was throwing it over. They hit a couple of balls on him, but he went right at them."
The teams traded runs in the fourth. Ramirez picked up the first of his four RBI on a single that drove in Chris Colabello (who had been walked for the second time). But the Orioles responded with their first run when Aaron Thompson misplayed a dribbler off the bat of Nelson Cruz that plated Nick Markakis.
The Twins fell behind in the 6th inning. Trevor May had recorded four outs and Gardenhire liked what he saw, specifically the changeups May was throwing. Unfortunately, Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who hit 53 home runs last year, liked what he saw too. "I elevated one that [Davis] elevated right back," reflected May. The solo shot put the Twins into a 2-1 hole.
It turned out OK - the pitching prospect was just setting the table for some of his minor league teammates. Infielders Danny Santana and James Bereford both played on the AA New Britain Rock Cats with May last year. In the eighth inning they worked together to tie the game when Beresford singled and Santana drove him home with a triple.
That ended up being a precursor to the fireworks in the final frame. Top prospect Byron Buxton lit the fuse and nearly provided a memorable explosion. He hit a rocket line drive that cleared the center fielder's head and bounced (sigh) OVER the wall for a ground rule double. Had it not, fans might have seen a rare inside-the-park home run on a ball in which nobody stumbled or took a odd bounce. Buxton was rounding second base as it cleared over the wall. "I would have liked to have seen him running that thing out," mentioned Gardenhire. "After it bounced out, I was kid of disappointed."
That feeling likely dissipated quickly. Buxton was driven in two batters later by prospect Max Kepler before Ramirez's rocket shot. With just 70 games of big league experience, Ramirez is looking to surprise people the same way he did last year coming out of spring training. "He's pretty sure of himself," says Gardenhire. "Confident, confident young man. He's healthy. He made my team last year doing the same thing and he knows what's at stake here, so he's coming out and ready to play."
The kids continued to follow his lead, including Santana, whose locker was right next to Ramirez in the visiting clubhouse. Santana hit his second triple of the game later in the ninth, driving in two more runs. The speedy shortstop has left an impression with Gardenhire. "As I've told people, this guy's pretty exciting. He's got jets. I'm pretty confident when he walks up to the plate something is going to happen."
Plenty happened today, even if Twins fans had to wait until the late innings for it. It's only fitting that it was Wilkin Ramirez leading the charge in a game in a game that required patience.