By Rhett Bollinger and Jeffrey Flanagan
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ervin Santana threw seven strong innings, and the Twins were helped by three bases-loaded walks as part of a six-run seventh to snap their eight-year losing streak on Opening Day in a 7-1 win over the Royals on Monday at Target Field.
The Twins hadn't won a regular-season opener since 2008, but rallied in the seventh, keyed by an overturned call at first on a bunt attempt from Max Kepler after a leadoff single from Jorge Polanco. It led to the Twins loading the bases with one out, and scoring three runs on walks from Robbie Grossman, Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano.
"I didn't realize the drought had been quite that long," said Twins manager Paul Molitor, whose club started 0-9 last year. "Just to get off to a good start is good for our confidence. We've got to extend this for a while, but it was a nice day."
Catcher Jason Castro, signed to a three-year, $24.5 million in the offseason, provided two insurance runs with a single to left, and finished 2-for-3 with a walk in his Twins debut. Polanco capped the scoring with an RBI single to right. Royals lefty Matt Strahm was charged with four runs, while fellow lefty Travis Wood gave up two. Both recorded just one out.
It spoiled a strong outing by Royals lefty Danny Duffy, who threw six innings of one-run ball, scattering three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in his first Opening Day start. The lone run he allowed came on a solo shot to left from Sano in the fourth.
"I thought I threw pretty well, but the three walks … I can't be walking three," Duffy said, "With the stuff I have, I can't be nitpicking. I got to be more aggressive."
Duffy was out-pitched by Santana, who allowed one run on two hits and two walks with three strikeouts to become the first Twins pitcher to win on Opening Day since Livan Hernandez in 2008. Santana's only blemish was a solo homer from Mike Moustakas in the fourth.
Santana was helped by several impressive defensive plays, especially from center fielder Byron Buxton, who made a pair of diving catches, including one deemed the first five-star catch of the season by Statcast™ in the third. Buxton made a perfect read on a hard-hit liner from Alex Gordon, covering 36 feet in 2.9 seconds for a catch probability of 24 percent.
"When you hit the ball to him, you kind of tippy-toe to first base, hoping it might drop," Gordon said, "but knowing it might not. He's really athletic. We'll be seeing those catches for a while."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED The four-pitch walk: The Twins' six-run seventh was fueled by some wildness from the Royals' bullpen, starting with Strahm, who walked Grossman on four pitches with the bases loaded and one out. That gave the Twins the lead for good at 2-1. Peter Moylan came and struck out Buxton, his only batter, but Wood entered and walked Mauer and Sano back-to-back with the bases still loaded. The six runs were the most given up by the Royals in one inning in an Opening Day game.
"We did have the matchups we liked," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "But command evaded us at that point." More >
Perfect timing: Santana didn't have a strikeout through the first six innings, but he got three straight Royals to strike out when he needed it most in the seventh. Lorenzo Cain walked and stole second to lead off, which led to a mound visit from Molitor. But with a mixture of sliders and changeups, Santana proceeded to strike out Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Brandon Moss to keep the score tied 1-1.
"Molitor asked how I felt, and I said I felt fine," Santana said. "I'm always honest. But I felt really good. I was just trying to keep the ball down."
"Us outfielders have this thing where nothing falls but raindrops. We take that to heart and want to be the best outfield out there. We're trying to be aggressive to every line drive and foul ball we can be." -- Buxton, on Minnesota's outfield defense
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Sano's homer in the fourth was the second-hardest in his career by exit velocity, according to Statcast™. The blast into the second deck left the bat at 113.8 mph and traveled a projected 425 feet. His hardest-hit homer came last year at 114.2 mph. Sano has 10 homers of more than 110 mph since 2015, while the rest of the Twins have six combined.
After Polanco singled to open the seventh, Kepler dropped down a sacrifice bunt and was initially ruled out at first. But after a short review, the play was overturned, and Kepler was awarded with a bunt single to put two runners on with nobody out. It turned out to be a crucial overturn: A sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk and a bases-loaded walk to Grossman put the Twins up 2-1.
"It was the little things," Molitor said. "Kep got that bunt down in what was one of the biggest plays of the day and got down the line. We showed some patience taking some walks."
The Twins provided a pregame video tribute to Twins prospect Yorman Landa and Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, both of whom died in car accidents during the offseason. Both clubs also wore a patch.
"That home run was for Yorman Landa," Sano said of his solo shot in the fourth. "It's tough for us and for the Kansas City Royals. They were both good teammates."
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: After Tuesday's off-day, right-hander Ian Kennedy, who had a superb spring, takes the mound Wednesday in a 12:10 p.m. CT start. Kennedy didn't allow a run in Spring Training until his final inning on Saturday, when he gave up three to Texas.
Twins: Minnesota has an off-day on Tuesday, but left-hander Hector Santiago will start against the Royals on Wednesday at 12:10 p.m. CT. Santiago, acquired from the Angels at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, posted a 4.70 ERA last year, but a 5.58 ERA in 11 starts with the Twins.