Twins blow three-run lead in ninth, lose opener to Brewers 6-5

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Phil Miller, Star Tribune
·4 min read
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MILWAUKEE – The Twins' season began at 1:14 p.m., and by 1:20, Josh Donaldson was injured. And that wasn't even the most worrisome part of Opening Day for the Twins.

Max Kepler finished a home run short of the cycle, Byron Buxton cracked a 456-foot home run, and Kenta Maeda fought through control problems to help the Twins build a three-run lead entering the ninth inning.

But Alex Colomé, signed over the winter to help protect those leads, committed a critical throwing error and allowed two loud hits that relinquished that lead in the ninth, and the Brewers quickly added the game-winner in the 10th, stealing a 6-5 Opening Day victory at American Family Field.

With Lorenzo Cain starting the 10th on second base under MLB's pandemic rules, Brewers catcher Omar Navaez lined a single to right field off Randy Dobnak to move Cain to third. Orlando Arcia followed with a ground ball to second base, hit softly enough to allow Cain to score ahead of Jorge Polanco's throw.

The visitors frittered away their chance in the top of the 10th. Andrelton Simmons started on second and went to third on a wild pitch by Josh Hader, but Hader struck out Willians Astudillo, Luis Arraez and Jake Cave on a series of fastballs.

The Twins appeared headed to their fourth win in their last five openers, including all three under manager Rocco Baldelli, taking a seemingly safe 5-2 lead to the ninth against a Brewers team that hadn't put a runner on base since the fifth. With one out, however, Colomé hit Kolten Wong on the hand with a cutter, and when Keston Hiura slapped a potential double-play ball back to the mound, the pitcher sailed a throw to second base that shortstop Simmons had to jump to catch, allowing Wong to slid in safely.

Christian Yelich followed with a long fly ball to the right field wall that popped in and out of Kepler's glove and fell for a single, scoring Wong. Two batters later, Travis Shaw drove another Colome pitch into the right-center gap for a game-tying double, delighting the roaring, socially-distanced sellout crowd of 11,740.

The game started on a worrisome note for the Twins, when Donaldson doubled to the center-field wall, but felt a pull in his right hamstring as he rounded first base and limped to second. At the end of the inning, the Twins removed their starting third baseman, who missed 32 games plus the postseason in 2020 due to recurring calf strains, but the injury was diagnosed as mere tightness, perhaps just a minor irritation.

But the Twins' offense, the majors' worst in training camp this year, persistently chipped away at Brewers righthander Brandon Woodruff and four relievers, putting at least one runner on base in all nine innings. And though they left 11 runners on base, they came through often enough to hold the lead — until the ninth.

Their first run came courtesy Woodruff, who bounced a third-inning changeup in the dirt and past Narvaez, allowing Cave to jog home. Three pitches later, Kepler lined a sharp single to center field, driving home Miguel Sano.

Maeda helped produce another run an inning later, following Simmons' single with a well-place sacrifice bunt to move him to second. Arraez followed with a run-scoring line drive to center.

The Twins added two more runs in the seventh inning, when Kepler, who had already smashed his first triple since Aug. 20, 2018, grounded an Eric Yardley curveball down the left-field line for a double. Buxton followed with a titanic blast to center field,

Maeda, making his first Opening Day start in his six MLB seasons, wasn't the model of perfection he had been in March, when he allowed only one run and one walk all spring. Though he gave up only two hard-hit balls, Maeda also was victimized by a couple of infield hits, and his own sudden loss of control. With two outs and a runner on base in the third inning, Maeda hit Yelich with a pitch, watched Avisail Garcia reach when Arraez couldn't barehand a slow roller, and then walked Shaw after an eight-pitch battle to force in a run.

Maeda still have earned an Opening Day win, but Yelich opened the fifth with a single and Shaw hit a sharp grounder to Sano, who tried to turn a double play. His throw glanced off shortstop Simmons' glove, giving the four-time Gold Glove his first error as a Twin, and Baldelli turned to his bullpen. Two batters later, Narvaez drove home the unearned run with a single to left off Tyler Duffey.

The Twins' bullpen was otherwise strong until the ninth, as Cody Stashak, Taylor Rogers and Hansel Robles combined to retire all nine hitters they faced.