MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Twins were halfway through the first month of the season before they picked up their second win last year, a putrid start that weighed on their shoulders for the rest of a miserable season.
A fresh start has done wonders for the Twins and slugger Miguel Sano.
Eduardo Escobar homered and drove in four runs and Sano added a bases-loaded triple to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 9-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday.
Hector Santiago (1-0) gave up one run and four hits and struck out four in five innings for the Twins. After starting last season 0-9 to set the stage for a 103-loss season, the Twins are 2-0 for the first time since 2007.
"Everybody is playing happy," said Sano, who homered in the season opener and just missed two more on Wednesday. "It's a game. It's got a name: game. Everybody try to play normal. Nobody like in a hurry or something like that. No pressure. Only play and win."
Ian Kennedy (0-1) gave up three runs and three hits with five strikeouts and five walks in five innings for Kansas City. Paulo Orlando drove in the lone run for the Royals, who walked nine Twins batters on the day.
"You're just putting yourself in a position for them to put big numbers on the board when that happens," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Sano broke the game open with his triple that almost cleared the high wall in right-center field and Escobar's three-run drive just reached the seats in left field.
"I'm not a home run hitter, so as soon as I hit the ball I started hustling like I usually do," Escobar said. "Once I got to second base and saw my teammates celebrating I was able to slow down and enjoy it."
Royals: Alex Gordon was hit on the right hand by a pitch from Santiago in the first inning, but remained in the game after being examined by team athletic trainers. He went 0 for 3.
Kennedy couldn't find the strike zone, walking three in the Twins' three-run second inning. That followed a season opener on Monday in which Royals pitchers walked seven Twins hitters, a troubling sign for a team that had its title defense done in last season in large part to a lackluster starting rotation.
The bullpen has been the bigger problem this season, with Nate Karns and Matt Strahm giving up all six runs in the seventh.
"Just starting off on a bad foot, really," Karns said. "I don't think there's anything that can point to why we're not doing really well right out of the gate. We'll tighten it up and get it going tomorrow."
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer might have had the play of the day in the sixth inning when Eduardo Escobar sent a line drive screaming toward him. Hosmer got his glove on it, but the ball popped out. Hosmer snared the ball with his throwing hand, but had to do a bit of a juggling act before securing it and stepping on first to double up Juan Castro.
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton is being counted on to have a breakout season after looking overmatched at times at the plate last season. Manager Paul Molitor is hitting Buxton third in the order, a spot generally given to one of the team's top hitters.
The early returns have not been promising. He has struck out six times in 10 at-bats with just one infield single.
After selling out the opener on Monday, the Twins announced a crowd of 15,171 for Game 2 on an overcast day in which the temperature at first pitch was a cool 47 degrees. It's the smallest crowd announced at Target Field and indicative of a fan base skeptical of the team's chances after minimal changes were made to a roster that lost 103 games last season.
Royals: RHP Jason Hammel will make his debut for the Royals in the series finale against the Twins today.
Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson, a former University of Missouri standout, starts for Minnesota.