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Two openers, two very different results—2001 & 2011

Talk about entirely different franchise trajectories

Phil Garner #33

Coming into the 2001 season, the Minnesota Twins were largely the laughingstock of Major League Baseball. Eight consecutive 4th-or-worse finishes in the AL Central—and struggling to seat a million fans per season—will do that to a franchise. This was the time period from which our digital domain derives its spongy food-cake moniker.

By ‘01, though, the Twins had acquired and developed a solid amount of raw, young talent thanks to the shrewd wheeling-and-dealing of GM Terry Ryan and the on-field generalship of Tom Kelly. Of course, there was much to be proven after such a prolonged fallow period. That redemption began at Comerica Park—its concrete still setting after a 2000 christening—in front of 40,000 Tigers faithful.

Tom Kelley #10
TK leading his boys into battle

After Twins starter Brad Radke navigated the first inning without much trouble—not always a given—the contest turned into what would become the epitome of the new-look Twins. A Jacque Jones groundout plated David Ortiz in the second to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage over Jeff Weaver. In the fourth, Ortiz didn’t need anyone else to drive him in, sending a Weaver offering deep into the RF bleachers.

The Kitties scratched a run across in their half of the fourth, but that was all Radke would allow. In the eighth, a Denny Hocking sacrifice fly would plate A.J. Pierzynski for a little insurance. The security blanket proved necessary, as after eight strong Radke frames, LaTroy Hawkins began his save opportunity thusly: walk, wild pitch, run-scoring single. With the potential tying run on second base, Bob Wells entered from the pen and was the benefactor of a line-drive double play (Luis Rivas to Cristian Guzman) to end the game in a 3-2 Twins victory.

Bob Wells #46
Bob Wells locking down a (rare) save opportunity

As we all know, the ‘01 Twins—despite missing the playoffs that year—kicked off a baseball resurgence in Twins Territory. In many ways, their opener was indicative of the overall approach: Radke chucked just 84 spheres to A.J.—striking out two and walking one in 8 frames—while the offense managed three runs on just six hits (largely based on two sacrifice plate appearances).

Ten years later, having dominated the division for the better part of the 2000s, there was a much different vibe for the Twins’ 2011 season-opening international voyage to Toronto. Coming off a magical 94-win 2010 season that also saw the return of outdoor baseball to Minneapolis, the Twins looked primed to continue their winning ways.

In front of nearly 50,000 Blue Jays fans, the Twins went down 1-2-3 (all groundouts from Denard Span, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, & Joe Mauer) against Ricky Romero to put Carl Pavano on the bump. Things, uh, did not go as smoothly.

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays
Pav ‘Stache was far from his best to begin 2011

Pavano’s start to the season: single, single, double steal, walk, hit-by-pitch. By the time the dust (artificial as it may have been inside Rogers Centre) had settled, the Twins had a season-opening 4-0 hole to dig out of.

While the game remained in reach for a little while, the wheels came off in the middle innings. A J.P. Arencibia two-run bomb dinged Pavano in the fourth, then back-to-back big flies from Jose Bautista & Adam Lind opened the fifth. By the time Jeff Manship began to mop up the damage (but giving up a two-run triple of his own), the route—10-0 Jays—was on.

Despite a little late-inning noise from Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Danny Valencia, & Alexi Casilla, Toronto continued piling on, knocking around reliever Dusty Hughes in the eighth for the eventual 13-3 victory.

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays
A picture is worth a thousand words—2011 in a nutshell

It was a disastrous beginning to a year that would prove, well, a disaster. After their 2000s dominance, the ‘11 Twins would finish 63-99 and begin a streak of four consecutive unremarkable losing seasons.

Two openers—two completely different franchise trajectories. Over the course of the upcoming 2021 season, I’ll be checking in on key points—good, bad, & ugly—from those ‘01 and ‘11 squads. Hopefully, the current ‘21 bunch will be constructing some moments just as memorable, with the vibe being closer to that of 20 years ago than 10.