Mitch Garver had been hitting his way through the Twins minor league system since the summer of 2013. He spent most of last season producing at Class AAA Rochester and finally received a call to the Twins on Aug. 18.
Garver was primarily a catcher and, in his 1,819 minor league at-bats, he batted .271 with 51 home runs and four triples. After arriving with the Twins, Garver played sparingly, with 23 games, 46 at-bats and a .196 average.
That amounted to nine hits. None was a home run. Three were triples.
If proposition bets on such things were available in a Nevada sports book, what odds would you have received to wager Garver, a rookie catcher with power, would hit three triples before he hit a home run in the big leagues?
Enormous odds. Case Keenum 61 yards to Stefon Diggs odds. Three triples in six weeks — after a total of four in 4½ years in the minors — can’t happen, but it did.
The Twins were well-set at catcher when Garver replaced an injured Robbie Grossman on the roster last August. Jason Castro was the regular, and Chris Gimenez was solid as the backup.
Yet, Garver was ready to turn 27 in January, and the Twins had to find out if his solid hitting would carry over to the big leagues. Gimenez was not offered a deal, setting up Castro/Garver as the combination to start this season.
Garver had one start in the first five games, catching Jose Berrios’ shutout last Sunday in Baltimore. He was in the lineup again in the home opener on Thursday, as the Twins faced a lefthanded starter for the first time in Seattle’s James Paxton.
The Twins are loaded with lefties as regulars: Joe Mauer, Logan Morrison, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Castro, plus switch-hitter Eduardo Escobar.
Manager Paul Molitor broke out Garver and right fielder Ryan LaMarre as righthanded hitters and switch-hitters Grossman and Ehire Adrianza to bat righthanded.
The lineup did not look nearly as potent as the lefty-heavy bunch that faced five righthanded starters in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Molitor admitted it was a batting order that took some time to construct.
“First lefty we’re facing,” he said. “I tried to not get caught up in that it was our home opener. … You try to play the right people as best you can.
“I’ve talked to our five lefthanded hitters that will play pretty much against all righthanded pitching. We’re going to have to rotate those guys through on some of these lefty matchups.”
Paxton has had injury issues, but when healthy he’s among the American League’s better lefties. There were a few seconds during the pregame display of patriotism when it looked as if the Twins might avoid the matchup.
Challenger, the oft-available bald eagle, was supposed to swoop from center field to home plate as the national anthem concluded. Instead, the confused raptor took a right and tried to land on Paxton, as he was standing alone in left field.
“I was worried about Paxton,” Garver said. “That was amazing. I probably wouldn’t be as cool and collected in a situation like that as Paxton.”
That coolness continued through five innings. The Twins had two singles and were trailing 2-0. Then, Mauer, one of the two lefties in the order, singled to open the sixth.
Paxton followed with the mistake of throwing an 1-2 knuckle curve to Miguel Sano rather than one of his 97-mph fastballs. The big man reached down and yanked that off-speed pitch into the left-field stands.
Just like that, Paxton was gone, successful in fending off a puzzled raptor but settling for a 2-2 tie and no-decision vs. the Twins.
The Seattle reliever was Dan Altavilla, 25, a righthander with a reputation for an outstanding slider. He had three strikeouts among four outs when Garver came up in the seventh.
“I faced him several times in the minors,” Garver said. “I don’t think I ever got a hit off him.”
Garver was behind 0-2 in the count when Altavilla threw a slider that was reachable. Garver hit a 409-foot home run into the second deck for a 3-2 lead. It was home run No. 1 in the big leagues and the winning run in what became a 4-2 victory.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking for the slider, because he has a good fastball, too,” Garver said. “I was looking for something up.
“To hit a home run in a spot like that, that’s something I’ll never forget. It couldn’t get any better for the first one.”