Richie Sexson 5, Twins 1
Before I get to Richie Sexson's heroics and other notes from Opening Day, I would like to take this opportunity to document the fact that Joe Mauer stole the Twins' first base of the season. After blooping a single into short left field in the top of the fourth inning, Mauer took off for second base as my jaw dropped. I would have been just fine if Mauer agreed to never attempt a stolen base for the rest of his life, yet there he was, not only trying to steal against Miguel Olivo, but sliding head first into second base in a 5-0 game. Amazingly, Mauer was safe, but I almost would have preferred if he was thrown out. That way at least he would think twice before trying it again for a while.
FSN had Ron Gardenhire read the starting lineup before the game, which I thought was a nice idea. Gardenhire made a few little comments, like calling Justin Morneau "The Big Canadian," but the thing that caught my attention was introducing Luis Rivas in the ninth spot by saying something like, "Louie is going to have a good year and make me right about him." It's obviously just a throwaway line, but it does make me think that perhaps Gardenhire is Rivas' main supporter within the organization.
When trying to figure out why the team brought him back for $1.625 million this year, that may just be reason #1. It would also go a long way towards explaining why Gardenhire constantly complains about Rivas' play, yet never actually benches him. Incidentally, Rivas got the team's first hit of the season and also made a very nice play on a ball up the middle that Brad Radke deflected with his glove. He's had several good games before though, so don't get too excited.
Jamie Moyer has got to be a tough Opening Day assignment. You spend all spring getting ready for the season, Opening Day finally arrives, you're playing in front of a packed house on the road, emotions are running high, and then some lefty with a goofy delivery keeps throwing off-speed junk at you. It would be like a basketball player going through one of those NBA-style overly dramatic starting lineup intros, complete with total darkness and some cheesy PA announcer screaming their name, and then watching as the other team runs the shot clock down to single digits on every possession.
When a batter smacks a ball into right field against the Mariners and it appears as though they are going to try to stretch the hit into a double, the crowd at Safeco Field starts buzzing in preparation for Ichiro! throwing a laser into second base. Jacque Jones hustled a double out of a hit to right in the top of the sixth inning yesterday, and while Ichiro! had no shot at throwing him out, the Seattle crowd started getting audibly excited as soon as they saw Jones round first. Little stuff like that is why I miss baseball so much during the offseason.
I'm not completely happy with the lineup the Twins trotted out yesterday, but it is at least reasonably close to the order I would come up with if I were in charge. If Jason Bartlett hits like I think he will, the team will have just one easy out in the entire lineup, which is a whole lot different than what we saw in the second half of last season. Michael Cuddyer hitting eighth is pretty sick, although I'm worried he won't see enough good pitches to hit with Rivas batting behind him.
I'm not sure that this means anything, but Radke gave up two homers to one batter on Opening Day last year too, serving up a pair of long balls to Cleveland's Travis Hafner. In fact, Radke gave up three homers (and 11 total hits) to the Indians, and then went on to have the best season of his career. After serving up three homers in that first game, Radke then allowed just two homers in his next 14 starts. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.
For the first of what will probably be about 100 times this year, we saw a potential downside to batting Mauer and Morneau back-to-back in the lineup. With those two due up in the top of the eighth and the team in need of a big inning to get back into the game, the Mariners brought in lefty reliever Ron Villone from the bullpen. Now, Villone and pitchers like him in other bullpens across the American League aren't exactly rally killers, but combined with the fact that neither Mauer or Morneau have shown that they can handle lefties yet and you can see why it might present some problems throughout the year.
I don't see any real way around it though, as Mauer and Morneau are the two best hitters on the team and are prototypical #3 and #4 hitters. Plus, the guy I would call the third-best hitter on the team, Shannon Stewart, is a right-handed hitter, but isn't budging from the leadoff spot anytime soon. As soon as Mauer starts learning to handle southpaws a little better -- and he will, and probably before Morneau does -- it will be less of a problem. Still, something to look for in late-inning situations this season.
Hopefully all the people who have tried to convince me that keeping Mauer at catcher for as long as possible isn't worth the risk had a chance to see the bullet he tossed to second base to throw out Ichiro! yesterday. You don't give up on that unless you absolutely have to. Mauer is now 8-for-19 throwing out runners for his career, which works out to a cool 42.1%. Ivan Rodriguez's career mark is 48.1%. And Mauer is now 2-for-2 stealing bases, which I'm pretty sure is some sort of record.
Imagine how great yesterday must have been for Seattle fans. You open up the season at home, in your beautiful, new(ish), outdoor ballpark, and beat the three-time AL Central champs after a season in which you lost 99 games. Your 42-year-old Opening Day starter, who had a 5.21 ERA last year, goes 5.2 innings without allowing an earned run. Your bullpen, which ranked 11th in the league in ERA last year, closes out the win with 3.1 no-hit innings. Your big free agent slugger, who has some major question marks concerning his injured shoulder and the impact it might have on his power, hits two home runs. And, of course, your freak of nature leadoff man goes 2-for-4.
Hopefully the start of the season won't be so pleasant for Mariners fans once they become Johan Santana's first victim of the year tonight.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Five Questions: Minnesota Twins (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Five Questions: St. Louis Cardinals (by Brian Gunn)
- Game in Review: Reds vs. Mets (by Studes)
- Where Did Kong Go Wrong? (by Steve Treder)
Today's Picks (2-2, -$50):
Los Angeles (Lowe) +165 over San Francisco (Schmidt)
Minnesota (Santana) -160 over Seattle (Meche)
Boston (Clement) +155 over New York (Pavano)