The Twins won their first game of the season last night as their bats defeated Jared Weaver, the Los Angeles Angels, and the Twins own defense by a score of 6-5.
It was a victory not just for the players on the field, but for the front office and coaching staff, as it finally validated decisions they had made throughout the offseason and spring training. Those decisions, contrary to the popular view of the Twins as a fundamentally sound team, have emphasized scoring runs over solid baseball. Tonight, they were proved right.
For instance, the Twins signed 38-year-old career utility infielder Jamey Carroll to handle the premier defensive position of shortstop. To be sure, he was an upgrade defensively over last year's primary shortstop, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but so were most bipeds with opposable thumbs. (With the possible exception of Trevor Plouffe.) But Carroll was signed for a much bigger financial commitment than several other significantly better fielders because of his ability to get on base.
Tonight, after a frustrating start of the season in which Carroll was hitless, that decision bore fruit. On the one hand, he let a throw from Denard Span get past him that led to the fifth Angels run of the ball game, because the ball had the gaul to bounce before it got to him. But he more than made up for that gaffe with two huge hits. The first, a double, led to the Twins first run of the game and started a 3-run inning. The second, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, plated the winning run.
The biggest decision the Twins made during spring training involved realigning the outfield defensively. It benched defensive ... oh, let's go with "specialist" over "messiah" because it'e more conventional ... Ben Revere. But it added breakthrough rookie Chris Parmelee to the roster and moved slugger Josh Willingham to left field, where he felt more comfortable.
He didn't look very comfortable there in the fifth inning. With two outs, a hard-hit but catchable ball was hit to the wall in left field. Willingham missed it painfully, crashing into the wall. That resulted in a three-run inside-the-park home run that blew the Twins first and only lead of the season and gave the Angels a 4-3 edge.
But Willingham had looked downright cozy a half inning earlier. That's when he turned on a Jared Weaver pitch to break the 1-1 tie with a 2-run blast that gave the Twins their first and only lead of the season. He also just missed another extra base blast in his next at-bat when it drifted foul by a couple of feet. Note to Twins management and batting instructors: it might just be that pull hitting is desirable at Target Field.
That sequence - giving up three, adding two - would still leave Willingham and the Twins' sprinf realignment in the red if not for the other beneficiary of the outfield shifting, Chris Parmelee. Down by two runs and facing a southpaw that was specifically brought in to pitch to him, Parmelee drilled a ground ball down the first base line where Albert Pujols was fortunately not holding a runner, because there were two men on base. The hit plated the two tying runs and Parmelee took third base when Torii Hunter awkwardly fell into the right field base line wall. Parmelee later scored the winning run on Carroll's hit.
Hot bats from three newcomers, none of which necessarily exemplify the Twins defensive ideal, won this game. While some Twins defensive issues basically cost them five preventable runs, perhaps defense is something upon which this team can improve. They'll likely need to, but they didn't need to tonight.