But it all unraveled in the sixth, as he gave up a pair of home runs to Yan Gomes and Nick Swisher, before the bullpen faltered late, to hand the Twins a 7-2 loss to the Indians in the home opener at Progressive Field on Friday after a rain delay that lasted for two hours and 13 minutes.
"He went out for the sixth, and wasn't the same pitcher," Gardenhire said. "He lost command of his fastball. He made some bad pitches, and next thing you know a home run, and he walked two guys on eight pitches. We had to get him out of there. It went that quick."
Pelfrey cruised through four perfect innings but saw his bid for perfection end in the fifth, when he gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Santana.
He was able to get out of that jam, but wasn't as lucky in the sixth. He served up a leadoff homer to Gomes before issuing a walk to Lonnie Chisenhall. Two batters later, Swisher delivered a two-run shot to give the Indians the lead for good.
"I just kind of lost it and started leaving balls over the plate," Pelfrey said. "The 3-2 pitch to Gomes was right down the middle. And the fastball was supposed to be in on Swisher, too, and it was over the middle and he hit it. So it kind of ruins the whole day no matter how those first four innings went."
Pelfrey then walked Jason Kipnis and Santana without throwing a strike in either at-bat, and was replaced by right-hander Casey Fien, who was able to limit the damage that inning. Pelfrey ended up allowing three runs on three hits and three walks over 5 1/3 innings in his first start since re-signing with the Twins on a two-year, $11 million deal this offseason.
"I think what really got us going was Gomer and Swish," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We were playing at a deficit and the way we were swinging, two runs looked like they were going to be a lot. Now, it goes to show you, if you can keep a game close and hang in there, you've got a chance."
The Twins scored early against Indians right-hander Danny Salazar with two runs in the first inning. Brian Dozier snapped an 0-for-13 skid to start the season with a double to center field before coming around to score on a sacrifice fly from Josh Willingham. Chris Colabello, who had a career-high six RBIs on Thursday, then followed with a solo shot to right field for his first homer of the season.
Minnesota had Salazar on the ropes in the third, when Dozier singled with two on and two out, but Kurt Suzuki was waved home by third-base coach Joe Vavra and was thrown out by five feet at the plate for the final out of the inning.
The Twins rallied again in the fifth, when Dozier picked up his third hit with one out but was held at third on a double to right-center field from Joe Mauer, and ended up being stranded there. Salazar intentionally walked Willingham to load the bases, and was able to get Colabello to line out to second and Trevor Plouffe to ground out to second to get out of the jam.
Gardenhire defended Vavra's decision to hold Dozier at third on Mauer's double, as he didn't think Dozier got a good read on the ball.
"It starts out with Dozier not reading the ball that well when he first hit it, so the third-base coach had to read it," Gardenhire said. "Could he have sent him? Yeah, he probably had a shot. But it starts off with Dozier not getting a great read on it."
But Dozier thought he read the ball just fine and only hesitated for a second to make sure the ball wouldn't be caught.
"I thought I got a pretty good read right off the bat and checked up for a second but was hauling after that," Dozier said. "Whether or not we could've scored or not, I don't know. Joe had a better look than I did. I thought we could've got it, but oh well. Hammer was coming up, and Colabello was right behind him and was swinging good."
The Indians added four insurance runs to put the game away in the seventh inning. Fien, who recorded two outs in the sixth, came back out and struggled, giving up three straight hits with one out including an RBI single to Nyjer Morgan. Left-hander Caleb Thielbar replaced Fien, but didn't fare any better, surrendering an RBI double to Swisher and a two-run single to Michael Brantley after intentionally walking Santana to load the bases.
"Our bullpen just couldn't get it done and make any pitches," Gardenhire said. "They got on a roll there, like we've seen. And they're hard to stop when they start swinging."