The Twins continue their winning ways on their season-opening road trip, pulling out an extra-inning victory from the hands of the White Sox, who squandered plenty of chances to win the game. J. J. Hardy, suddenly the Twins' #3 hitter, won the game with a two-out single in the eleventh, prompting many fans to scratch their heads and try to remember the last time a Twins shortstop had hit third for this team. Is never the right answer? Certainly the last few years have featured offensive black holes at short stop, but it's almost surprising that Ron Gardenhire didn't put Nick Punto in the #3 hole for at least one game. The way Gardy'd justify it would be worth it -- to say that he had good numbers against a certain pitcher and that he's an "igniter" anyways. He came close enough last year when he had the balls to put Punto in the #2 hole "protecting" Joe Mauer. But, with Hardy, the Twins actually have a major-league ballplayer in the starting lineup. Add Orlando Hudson to the mix, who, although he's having a rough start to the season at the plate, is another bona fide professional, and you get to see how much an improvement the 2010 team is over last year's sad-sack loser version which featured thoroughbred Double-A talent in Carlos Gomez, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, Nick Punto, and others as key parts in the everyday lineup. The 4-1 start is an early indication that this team is leagues better than last years, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Ron Gardenhire, folks. It's not like Ron Gardenhire has the ability to coax quality at-bats out of the newcomers. Here's a guy who took good players (see Ortiz, David) and nearly sucked the life out of them. No, the thanks should be in order to Bill Smith, who's suddenly earning his keep after sleepwalking through the first few years on the job.
Scott Baker will make his second start on the road trip, facing Chisox retread Freddy Garcia. Joe Mauer will be back in the lineup Saturday after sitting in lieu of Drew Butera, who only struck out in all three of his at-bats on Friday night. Like father, like son -- Drew's dad Sal was an offensively-challenged backup catcher in his own right. With Butera and Casilla taking up roster spots, Gardenhire has at least set his quota at two minor-league players on the 25-man major league roster (never minding pitcher Alex Burnett, who's serving as an injury replacement for Clay Condrey). Like himself, Ron Gardenhire has a fond spot in his heart for undeserving players in the big leagues. The big difference, however, is that when Gardenhire played himself, he played on a terrible New York Mets team that had nothing to play for anyway (interestingly, once the Mets started to get good in the mid-80s, Gardenhire was waved bye-bye). Nowadays, Gardy helms a competitive team that can't afford to lose games due to minor-league talent clogging up the roster. It was sure cute, though, to see those three pathetic at-bats from Drew Butera on Friday. Cute.
Photos: (1) AP/ Nam Y. Huh; (2) AP/Steven Senne