MINNEAPOLIS — For the Minnesota Twins, the memory of that 0-9 start and 59-103 finish last year was still uncomfortably fresh.
They couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the new season than this.
Miguel Sano homered and drew the third bases-loaded walk during a dreadful seventh inning for Kansas City’s bullpen, as Ervin Santana and the Twins beat the Royals 7-1 on Monday for their first opening victory in nine years.
“We didn’t try to overemphasize anything about today other than the fact that we’ve been on a little bit of a mission in spring training to try to come out and play a little bit better,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Santana (1-0) gave up just two hits and two walks while striking out three over seven innings, aided by two diving catches of sinking line drives by center fielder Byron Buxton that highlighted a stellar afternoon of defense by the Twins.
Mike Moustakas homered leading off the fourth for the Royals, but Sano came back in the bottom of the inning with a tying 425-foot drive into the second deck off Danny Duffy. Six straight balls by Santana to start the seventh gave Molitor pause, but he responded to the mound visit with three straight outs to finish the frame.
“I try to get him to stay positive,” Sano said. “Let’s go. You’re the man over there.”
After signing a $65 million, five-year contract to assume the role as the ace of the rotation, Duffy’s first career opening day start was a dazzler with eight strikeouts over six innings with three hits and three walks.
Then manager Ned Yost turned to Matt Strahm (0-1) for the seventh, and the Royals unraveled while the Twins rallied with two bunts and four walks.
“Just one bad game. We have 161 left,” Duffy said. “Our bullpen is great, and I have ultimate confidence in them.”
The key play was Max Kepler’s hustle to beat out a sacrifice attempt for a single, following a replay reversal of the initial out call. Brian Dozier was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs, and Robbie Grossman, Joe Mauer and Sano all forced in runs with unintentional walks.
Jason Castro tacked on a two-run single, and Jorge Polanco followed with an RBI single as Molitor’s new-look, new-age lineup with Buxton batting third and Mauer in the cleanup spot worked well for the first try.
“Just keep grinding out at-bats,” Mauer said. “That was pretty fun out there.”
After finishing in the top five in the major leagues in relief ERA in each of the last two seasons, using a lights-out bullpen to win the World Series in 2015, Royals relievers had a rather ominous debut. Peter Moylan struck out Buxton with the bases loaded, his only batter, but Strahm and Travis Wood each allowed four runners while retiring only one batter.
“That’s not Woody. I didn’t anticipate that. He’s a strike thrower,” Yost said. “He’s a veteran strike thrower. He’s not a guy that gets frazzled.”
The Twins won their first game of the season for the first time since 2008, delighting a sellout crowd announced at 39,615. This was only the second time in eight years since Target Field opened that the schedule put them in Minnesota to start the season.
“There’s just something about opening day,” Molitor said, “that I think kind of tingles everybody’s spine a little bit differently than the rest of the season.”
Mauer made his 13th opening day start, tying Harmon Killebrew for the most in Twins history.
Royals: Paulo Orlando was in RF for Jorge Soler, who began his first season with Kansas City on the 10-day DL with a strained left oblique muscle. Soler, who did some light work in the field before the game, is eligible to return on Sunday.
Twins: Santana, who reached 30-plus starts last year for the eighth time in his career, became Minnesota’s second two-time opening day starter of the last 10 seasons. Carl Pavano was the other, in 2011-12.
Royals: After the scheduled off day on Tuesday, RHP Ian Kennedy will take the mound for Kansas City in the middle game on Wednesday afternoon, followed by new RHP Jason Hammel in the series finale.
Twins: LHP Hector Santiago comes up next in the rotation for Minnesota, with Kyle Gibson on tap for Thursday afternoon.