Twins open Target Field with victory
Mauer notches three hits as club celebrates new ballpark
MINNEAPOLIS -- On a historic day when outdoor baseball returned to Minnesota for the first time in 29 years, the largest ovation during the introductions at the Target Field home opener was reserved for Twins catcher Joe Mauer.And the St. Paul, Minn., native, who last month signed an eight-year, $184 million contract extension to keep him with the Twins through 2018, made his first of many openers at the club's new ballpark a memorable one -- for both himself and the team. Mauer's three hits and two RBIs helped the Twins capture a 5-2 victory over the Red Sox in the first regular-season game at Target Field. Having spent his childhood watching the Twins play baseball inside the Metrodome before going on to play there himself for the past six years, Mauer knew better than most the significance of this day for the Twins' organization and its fans. "It was tough for me trying to stay on an even keel and reminding myself that we do have a ballgame to play and we're trying to win that ballgame," Mauer said. "Right now, it's tough to describe to my teammates, because I know people here have been waiting a long time for this. It's definitely a special place and I'm glad it's here."
For all the concerns about an outdoor ballpark in Minnesota, a capacity crowd of 39,715 fans gathered under bright blue, sunny skies at Target Field on Monday afternoon with temperatures in the mid-60s.There was no question that the main centerpiece of the day was the $545 million ballpark, one that had first been talked about more than a decade ago. But the Twins managed to make sure that they left the day feeling good about a victory, too. Carl Pavano pitched six solid innings, allowing just one run, and Jason Kubel hit the first home run in Target Field history to help ensure the victory. This was the first time in franchise history that the Twins had won a stadium opener. When Minnesota opened Metropolitan Stadium in 1961, it fell to the Washington Senators, 5-3. In 1982, the Twins opened the Metrodome by losing to the Seattle Mariners, 11-7. "It was very exciting," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after the contest. "I thought our guys handled it very well. I don't think you can get a better setting than this ballpark." Since moving to Minnesota in 1961, the Twins had always shared their home with the Vikings -- having played together at both Met Stadium and the Metrodome. But Monday marked the start of a new era in franchise history as the Twins now have a home to call their own. To celebrate the special day and the start of their 50th season in Minnesota, the Twins brought back many of their legendary players. A statue of Kirby Puckett was unveiled on the Target Field Plaza, and 10 flags representing the club's seven division titles, one American League pennant and two World Series championships were raised by a group of former players in the upper deck of left field. Legends Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek also took part in the festivities, ceremonially opening the gates of their respective retired jersey numbers and delivering the baseballs for the ceremonial first pitches to the Target Field mound before the game. Others who gathered for the historic contest included such Twins alumni as Brad Radke, Jim Kaat, Jack Morris, Eddie Guardado and Frank Viola as well as Commissioner Bud Selig and other Major League Baseball officials. "There was so much excitement," Denard Span said of the pregame festivities. "You see all the old veteran players, the greats who played here before, and they were the ones that paved the way for us to open up a new stadium. You could just tell there was a lot of excitement in the air." The Twins put on quite a display for all those in attendance, as it was an afternoon filled with hits for the club. Minnesota tallied a total of nine off Boston starter Jon Lester, who lasted just five innings and gave up four runs while throwing 107 pitches. Orlando Hudson got the first hit by a Twin at the new park in the first inning with his single to left field. It followed Span's leadoff walk, and the club's first run came later in the inning on Michael Cuddyer's broken-bat RBI single to left field. Mauer added RBI hits in the second and fourth innings. But the first home run at Target Field belonged to Kubel. The Twins' designated hitter had a great debut at the new park as well, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs, including his 391-foot solo shot to right field off reliever Scott Atchison to open the bottom of the seventh. "I'll remember it for the rest of my life," Kubel said. Pavano allowed one run while scattering four hits and striking out four. The veteran starter only got better as his outing progressed. Following David Ortiz's RBI double to left field in the fourth, Pavano retired eight straight batters. With one out in the sixth, Pavano tried to field a comebacker to the mound -- a liner by Victor Martinez -- with his pitching hand. He was able to stop the ball and throw it to first base for the second out of the inning. He slapped his thigh in pain afterward, but he remained in the game to record the final out of the inning after he was checked out by trainers. "The pitches after that were the best I had thrown all game, actually," Pavano said when asked if his hand affected him. "It was a little numb, but that's expected when you do something as stupid as try to grab the ball when it's hit back at you. I was glad to get the out and get out of there." The bullpen was able to hold onto the lead the Twins had built, allowing just one run on a Dustin Pedroia sac fly in the eighth, before Jon Rauch converted his fifth save in as many chances to secure the Twins' victory. For Mauer and the rest of the Twins, the win completed what was a special day all around. Mauer said he won't forget the reception that he got, and more importantly, the win they were able to capture in the opener. "When they announced my name, the reception that I got was pretty special," Mauer said. "Pretty much everybody, the reception was great. The fans were pumped up. You could tell. You try to stay on an even keel. It was good. I was glad we got the 'W.' We have a day off tomorrow, so we can kind of sit back and realize what happened today. It's great."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.