Twins beat Gophers in exhibition game

Redshirt senior shortstop Michael Handel had the Gophers’ lone hit.

by Ben Gotz

For a brief period of time, the Gophers were beating the Minnesota Twins.

Of course, the Twins had not come up to bat yet.

Redshirt senior shortstop Michael Handel’s RBI single in the top of the first inning scored the Gophers’ only run of the game. It was the team’s only hit in a 3-1 exhibition loss in Fort Myers, Fla.

The game was never about winning for the Gophers — it was all about the experience.

“We were so excited to get out here,” redshirt senior catcher Matt Halloran told reporters after the game. “We had nothing to lose — we were playing against professionals. They’re supposed to beat us.”

The Twins struck back immediately when they got their turn at the plate, tying the game with a Kennys Vargas double that scored top prospect Byron Buxton.

New Twins manager Paul Molitor held out most of the lineup regulars in the match against his old Gophers teammate and the college’s current head coach John Anderson.

Instead, the Twins lineup mainly consisted of their top prospects or players with little major league experience — with one exception on the mound.

In the top of the third inning, University of Minnesota alumnus Glen Perkins took the ball.

The All-Star pitcher declined to give any gifts to his alma mater, however, pitching a one-two-three inning with one strikeout.

Not that the Gophers were complaining.

“I faced Glen Perkins tonight and struck out, and I ain’t even mad about it,” senior outfielder Jake Bergren tweeted after the game.

The current Gophers pitchers did their best to keep the game close, blanking the Twins for four consecutive innings after Buxton’s second double in as many plate appearances gave the Twins the lead.

Redshirt junior pitcher Jordan Jess told reporters after the game that his nerves were going a little when he stepped onto the mound, but he just tried to focus on the catcher’s glove.

Of course, seeing a major leaguer at the plate was distracting at times.

“When guys like Vargas step up there, he’s a pretty imposing figure, so it’s tough not to notice him,” Jess told reporters. “But it wasn’t too bad.”

The Twins only had six hits of their own but still managed to mesmerize the Gophers during batting practice.

“The ball just flies right off their bat,” Jess told reporters after the game. “You watch these guys on TV, so it’s pretty cool to see them in person. Finally stepping out there, your nerves are going a little bit, but it’s all about having fun.”

The Twins’ array of big-league-capable arms kept the Gophers’ bats silenced, striking the team out 13 times.

“I was a little nervous at first,” Halloran told reporters after the game. “The guys coming up there are throwing 94, 95, but I knew a fastball was coming. I swung at it, missed it.”

Besides Twins prospect Jose Berrios, who started the first two innings, all of the Twins pitchers had major league experience.

And no matter what the scoreboard said, the Gophers were happy to share the field with the big leaguers.

“It was incredible. I’ve always been a Twins fan my whole life,” Halloran told reporters after the game. “It was an awesome experience.”