Fourth place by default in 2013, and trotting out the talented but not desirable Ricky Nolasco as their Opening Day starter, the Twins provide a fine early litmus test on whether the Sox have transitioned from monstrosity to major league-quality franchise. As they often are capable of doing when Chris Sale takes the mound and flyballs from mercurial left fielders are flying into the seats, the Sox at least kept up appearances.
Two Alejandro De Aza home runs, 7.1 quality innings from Sale and team-wide dominance of Twins hitters not named Kurt Suzuki provided a 5-3 win reminiscent of a watchable club.
The best baseball player in Chicago strengthened as the afternoon wore on. After coughing up up a 2-0 lead in the third when Kurt Suzuki turned around a 96 mph fastball for a two-out single to left, Sale retired 14 of the next 16 batters he faced. He finished in a flurry, striking out the side on the seventh and blowing a 94-mph fastball past Oswaldo Arcia on his 100th pitch. An ill-advised return for the eighth led to a leadoff double that eventually scored on another Suzuki dribbler, but at least ended happily with pinch-hitter Eduardo Escobar fanning on still-healthy late-inning heat. Sale struck out eight and walked one while getting credited for one more run than he deserved.
For a welcome change, the focus drifted off Sale early for an offense that eagerly padded his lead--at multiple, separate opportunities. The first of two Alejandro De Aza home runs--he's the first White Sox since Jim Thome in 2008 to pull off such a trick--saved a shaky middle-of-the-order from blowing a leadoff Jose Abreu double off Osvaldo Arcia's glove in the second. The second blast--a solo shot--put a cap on a day full of fair-to-middling Ricky Nolasco fastball-slider combos.
The Sox offense peppered him with 10 hits over six innings and made good work of their five at-bats with runners in scoring position (2-5). Seemingly miscast No. 3 hitter, Conor Gillaspie drove the offense as much as anyone Monday. He doubled off the wall in the third and scored on a two-run Abreu single, then worked a walk in the third and used a brilliant foot-first slide to score after tagging up on shallow pop off Adam Dunn's bat that corkscrewed in the wind just enough to take Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon out of a good throwing position.
The later innings swapped out quiet satisfaction for some decent tension, as is often the case when the Twins bullpen replaces the Twins' starters. Kurt Suzuki's RBI single, meant that Donnie Veal had to win a situational showdown with Joe Mauer representing the tying run in the eighth, and a couple of fat fastballs in the zone to Chris Colabello early meant Closer of the Day Matt Lindstrom had to bust out his best sliders to strike out Trevor Plouffe and coax a dribbler out of Osvaldo Arcia to close the deal.
They could win more games with this formula. Not all of them, but more.
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