Friday, September 10, 2010

Twins top Royals on beautiful night of baseball at Target Field

Finally, I made it. My first Twins game at Target Field.

What started two and a half months ago - when I presented my father and grandpa with tickets as a Father’s Day gift - was executed in splendid fashion as the three of us witnessed a marvelous 4-3 Twins win on a beautiful Wednesday night at the Twins’ spectacular new ballpark.

The weather could not have been much better - low 60s, clear and calm - while the views were stunning and the pitching was phenomenal.

Brian Duensing allowed four early hits, but responded by pitching eight strong innings to top Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke as the Twins held on for the win and a three-game sweep.

The night began with three generations meeting up to take the Light Rail from Bloomington. My grandfather’s first time on the electrical transportation system was a success as the three of us ventured from Metro Transit’s 28th Avenue station to Target Field.

Upon our arrival, Twins fans aligned with an indelible glow as we gaped at this spectacular structure’s entrance. My dad, grandpa and I slowly caroused through the field level concourse while taking in several aesthetically-pleasing sights.

Our first stop was to visit my friend Alex, a Twins guest service employee, at his dugout box perch along the first base line. Myself a former Twins employee, Alex would be one of many ex-co-workers I’d converse with that evening.

After hiking back up the steps to the concourse level, the three of us stumbled upon the Twins Live pregame show set. The time was approximately 6:22 p.m. as Marney Gellner, Tim Laudner and Ron Coomer prepared for their 6:30 show.

At this area, we also stared up toward the top of the flag pole where Twins designated hitter Jim Thome planted a majestic 480-foot shot Monday night.

We continued to peruse the pleasant pageantry of Target Field’s splendor in making our way toward the outfield and our second-deck seats. Some stairs near centerfield led us to the soon-to-be infamous Minnie and Paul neon sign.

Just beyond the gigantic jubilant Twins twin brothers icon was the 100-feet wide, 57-feet high video scoreboard. Right below there, in section 232, we arrived at our first row seats.

There was some slight trepidation from my father but mostly delight as the three of us peered down and around from our lofty perch.

Catchers Joe Mauer and Drew Butera stretched out in centerfield as Greinke conducted his pregame warm-ups in left. Minutes later, Duensing took the mound for the game’s first pitch to Royals centerfielder Gregor Blanco.

Blanco harmlessly hit Duensing’s third pitch to second for the first out and the Twins hurler completed an easy 1-2-3 first frame.

The Royals were able to get to Duensing the next two innings, collecting four hits and the game’s first run. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s 2009 Cy Young award winner, Greinke, stifled the Twins bats tossing four hit-free innings.

Then, after two outs to begin the bottom-half of the fifth, things unraveled for Greinke as Minnesota mounted a rally.

A four-pitch walk to the Twins’ .200-hitting DH Jose Morales was Greinke’s undoing. The free pass was followed by a J.J. Hardy single to break up the Royal ace’s no-hit bid, then two extra-base hits ensued as Twins lead-off hitter Denard Span concluded his team's rally with a two-run triple.

The 3-1 lead looked solid as Duensing regained control on the mound - allowing two singles in retiring 16 of 18 batters after a third-inning hit by Josh Fields.

Hardy hit a solo home run in the seventh inning for the only other blemish against Greinke - who surrendered five hits and three walks in throwing a complete game.

As Matt Capps jogged to the mound to begin the ninth, a Twins win was virtually guaranteed. However, Hardy’s homer proved hugely important as the Minnesota closer faltered in attempting to get the third out.

Wilson Betemit began the inning with a double, but Capps induced consecutive ground outs to simmer a possible Royals rally. However, a walk, single and stolen base had Royals pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson in scoring position as the tying run.

With Minnesota’s lead trimmed to one, Kansas City suddenly gained momentum and had its All-Star closer, Joakim Soria, warming up in the bullpen with the Royals hopeful of stealing its way to a win.

The crowd was on pins and needles as Capps faced Kansas City’s Mitch Maier. Fortunately, for the Twins, five frantic pitches later Maier popped up to Delmon Young in left to end the game.

Minnesota (83-57, 1st place in the AL Central) completed its nine-game home stand with eight wins - six of which were by one run. Combined with a White Sox loss yesterday, the Twins have taken a commanding six-game lead over Chicago.

The loss dropped the hapless Royals to 57-82, guaranteeing Kansas City its seventh straight losing season.

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