This is an except of a post that originated at Zone Coverage; please read the entire thing here.
The 2016 season opened with a walk-off loss for the Minnesota Twins in Baltimore.
Then again, it also began with Miguel Sano playing right field, so the parallels probably stop there.
But the Twins opened the 2018 season in stunningly similar fashion to two years ago, when the wheels fell all the way off on the path to a 103-loss season, the No. 1 overall pick and the bouncing bundle of prospect joy that is Royce Lewis.
This team is probably just a bit more well-prepared to stomach such a loss, even without Ervin Santana for probably the next six weeks. Santana started that fateful game against the Orioles in early April 2016, but both he and Chris Tillman were bounced early after a nearly two-hour rain delay. Another delay two innings later meant the teams spent almost six hours at the ballpark with under three hours of game time to show for it.
It’s hard to come up with a better metaphor for the 2016 season, but either way, we’ll save that for a rainy day.
The weather was just fine as the Twins again fell 3-2 on Opening Day to the Orioles, this time off the bat of Adam Jones instead of Matt Wieters. Jones attacked the first pitch he, or any hitter for that matter, saw from Fernando Rodney in the bottom of the 11th, ambushing a 92 mph two-seam fastball and driving it deep into a sea of orange.
For the first six innings of the game, the attention was on the starters. Dylan Bundy kept the Twins in check as he tossed seven shutout frames, while Jake Odorizzi did the same through six before handing things off to Zach Duke.
That’s where things got dicey.
Trey Mancini struck out swinging, but Jason Castro was unable to corral the third strike. Mancini reached first, then took second on another wild pitch before Duke eventually fanned Tim Beckham. Former Twin Danny Valencia pinch-hit for designated hitter Pedro Alvarez, and was intentionally walked to set up a possible double play off the bat of Craig Gentry.
Earlier in the game, Gentry had robbed Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario of a home run with a terrific leaping catch at the fence in right-center.
Gentry struck out swinging, but with two outs, No. 9 hitter Caleb Joseph stroked a first-pitch triple into the right-center gap, bringing home both Mancini and Valencia to give the O’s a 2-0 lead. Duke recovered to strike Chris Davis out looking for the rarely-seen fourth strikeout of the inning, something he told reporters afterward he’d only ever done before in high school.
According to Baseball Almanac, that’s the fourth time in Twins history that a pitcher has fanned four batters in an inning, though all have happened in the last decade. Scott Baker (June 15, 2008), Francisco Liriano (June 5, 2012) and Tyler Duffey (May 8, 2016) were the first three.
Both Twins runs came in the ninth off interim closer Brad Brach, who is filling in while Zach Britton recovers from a ruptured Achilles. Sano struck out swinging, and Rosario followed with a grounder to first that Davis couldn’t handle — which was somehow ruled a single.
Rosario took second on a wild pitch, and Logan Morrison walked with Ryan LaMarre coming in to run for him. After Eduardo Escobar struck out on a full count pitch down in the zone, Max Kepler set the standard for best plate appearance of the year early, as he fought off multiple tough pitches before taking an 11-pitch walk to load the bases.
Molitor made the second — or third, depending on your mileage — decision of the day that left some fans scratching their heads as he had Robbie Grossman pinch-hit for Byron Buxton, but it paid off as Robbie’s flare into left-center landed just beyond the glove of Orioles shortstop Manny Machado to tie the game.
However, that was all the Twins offense was able to put together, with Jones sending the hometown fans happy after a couple innings of bonus baseball.