Angels find Opening Night a slow go
Twins' Hernandez stymies Halos and outshines Weaver
MINNEAPOLIS -- Revved up by the lights, cameras and action of Opening Night, a brilliant new center fielder having joined the luminous cast, the Angels ran into the wrong brand of pitcher for Torii Hunter's debut in red.
This was vintage Livan Hernandez: slow ... slower ... and slowest, all the way down to 59 mph on the radar gun. He wouldn't have gotten a ticket on the Santa Monica Freeway with that stuff, but he managed to lull the Angels into defeat.
Hitting his spots, expanding his strike zone, tying the Angels in knots, Hernandez outdueled Jered Weaver in the Twins' 3-2 victory in front of 49,596 on Monday night at the Metrodome.
"I've been 0-for-4 on Opening Day before, and my numbers are going to be there," Hunter said, having found no luck with his bat in his return to the Dome he called home for a decade. "You've got to be patient. We've got 161 left, and we're going to do some damage."
While Hernandez was controlling the damage, getting a pivotal double play off Maicer Izturis' bat during the Angels' two-run fifth inning, Hunter's replacement in center field for the Twins -- Carlos Gomez -- was driving his new team.
A centerpiece of the deal that made Johan Santana the Mets' new ace, Gomez doubled, singled, stole two bases, scored twice and ran down several drives in the gaps, including one by Hunter.
"Tell you what, Carlos Gomez is an athlete," a magnanimous Hunter said, having accepted several rousing ovations by appreciative fans. "He's impressive. The guy's fast, and he can close in the gaps. He's a good looking player."
Speed has nothing to do with Hernandez's labor. Departing after seven innings, Livan watched side-winder Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan finish the job.
Neshek struck out Vladimir Guerrero on a 3-2 pitch after Gary Matthews Jr.'s two-out double in the eighth, and Nathan took care of the ninth the way he usually does, yielding only an infield hit to Casey Kotchman.
With three of his team's nine hits, Kotchman broke swiftly from the gate, but there was no satisfaction in his voice afterward.
"He's going to throw strikes, make you put the ball in play," Kotchman said of Hernandez. "When pitchers do that, they make you earn your way on base."
Hernandez, however, was reeling in the fifth, when successive singles by Kotchman, Howard Kendrick and Mike Napoli loaded the bases with nobody out.
But Izturis, having claimed the shortstop job vacated by Orlando Cabrera with a great spring, grounded into a double play, bringing one run home.
Chone Figgins, who'd doubled in the third, slashed a two-strike single to right to tie it at 2, but Gomez ran down Matthews' drive in right-center to shut down the threat.
"When he got that double play, that kind of helped him get off the hook there," Figgins said. "That's where we smell blood. Putting hits together, that's our strong part there. He kept us under control. You have to give him credit for that."
Weaver, who lasted 6 1/3 innings and 106 pitches, promptly walked Gomez leading off the bottom of the fifth. Gomez stole second and scored on Michael Cuddyer's single through a drawn-in infield for the decisive run.
Darren Oliver and Darren O'Day, the latter in his Major League debut, kept the Twins scoreless the rest of the way.
It was Gomez who got the Twins rolling with a double leading off the first, scoring on Joe Mauer's single. Weaver frustrated the Twins until the fourth, when they made it 2-0. Delmon Young singled, stole second and scored on Mike Lamb's single.
"That was Twins baseball," Hunter said. "Mauer moved the runner over twice, they stole bases, made things happen. That's how they beat us."
Weaver night started with a strange twist. A towering popup by leadoff man Gomez on an 0-2 pitch deflected off a speaker and came hurtling down in foul territory. The 6-foot-7 pitcher made a sprawling effort, in vain, to flag it down.
Disconcerted, Weaver served a fastball that Gomez cracked past third for a double, and the Twins had the quick lead on Mauer's single to center.
"Now that I know it's out of play when that happens, I won't do that again," Weaver said of the popup that fouled him up. "I had to battle all game, and I had to pitch with runners on and work out of [trouble]. I'll take giving up three runs with this offense behind me. We're going to win most of the time when that happens.
"Hernandez threw that soft stuff and kept our hitters off balance. When you can locate, you don't have to throw 95 miles an hour."
A shade over 55 apparently can get it done when the stars are properly aligned.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.