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05/22/07 1:02 AM ET
Rangers' bats pound Twins in opener
Laird's grand slam highlights eight-run fifth inning
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Two starting pitchers had to battle through some rough moments in the first few innings Monday night. One stayed strong. The other buckled under the relentless pressure of an offense that appears to be finally living up to past expectations. Vicente Padilla was the one who stayed strong. He was the one who took a 3-2 lead after three innings and made it stand up in the Rangers' 14-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Carlos Silva was the pitcher who felt the Rangers' offensive fury. The Rangers led, 4-2, going into the bottom of the fifth and then blasted the game open with an eight-run rally. Sammy Sosa had a two-run double in the fifth-inning outburst and Gerald Laird hit the first grand slam of his Major League career. "I think the last grand slam I hit was in high school," said Laird after the Rangers won for the third time in four games and scored 14 runs for the second straight game. The eight runs were the most the Rangers have scored in one innings this year. It's the fourth time in club history that the Rangers have scored at least 14 runs in two consecutive games and the first since July 31-Aug. 1, 2002, when they beat the New York Yankees, 17-6, and the Boston Red Sox, 19-7, the following day. "This is what we thought we were capable of all year and we just haven't been able to put it all together," Laird said. "Things are starting to go well and we need to continue on like this and see where we are at in September." Frank Catalanotto jumped on the offensive bandwagon by coming off the disabled list and hitting a home run in his first at-bat to lead off the second inning. "I'll take it," Catalanotto said. "That's not what I was expecting; I was just happy to come out feeling comfortable and put some good wood on the ball. It was nice to get that first one out of the way and gain some confidence because I know if I'm confident, I'm going to hit." The Rangers need Catalanotto to hit, and they need to win when Padilla pitches. They were 1-8 in his first nine starts prior to Tuesday night. In his last start against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Disney World, the Rangers twice gave him a two-run lead and both times he gave it up right away. This time, he did not. "He was pitching effectively," manager Ron Washington said. "He made pitches when he had to. He was very aggressive and his tempo was good. He was going after their hitters and pounding the strike zone." He had a couple anxious moments early, especially in the first inning when Luis Castillo reached on an infield single and Nick Punto walked. Padilla then struck out Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau, but Torii Hunter singled up the middle on an 0-2 breaking ball to drive home a run. Padilla was visibly angry after Hunter's single but after a visit by pitching coach Mark Connor, he cut short the threat by getting Mike Redmond on a fly ball to right. "He just said to relax, it was only one run and it was the first inning and that the team could come back," Padilla said. "If the lineup keeps scoring runs like that, it will be much easier to win games." Sosa's RBI double in the first and Catalanotto's home run gave Padilla a 2-1 lead in the second. But bad luck bit him in the third after Cuddyer reached on a one-out single. Cuddyer then tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt and Laird's throw had him beat. But the tag from shortstop Michael Young missed Cuddyer, allowing him to slide in safely, and he scored on Morneau's single to tie the game. "I just told him to keep making pitches," Laird said. "He did that. He kept his composure and pitched. When he does that, he's going to win because his stuff is unbelievable." Kenny Lofton regained the lead for the Rangers after he doubled to lead off the third. He went to third on Young's single and scored on Mark Teixeira's double-play grounder. That gave Padilla a 3-2 lead, and this one did not go away. "My fastball was working really good and that made my slow stuff effective, too," Padilla said. "I had to keep battling and keep that lead." He retired nine of 10 hitters after the Morneau single before Redmond singled up the middle with two out in the sixth. That ball clipped Padilla in the right hand and the Rangers decided to pull him since they were sitting on a 12-2 lead. "It barely touched my fingers," Padilla said. "There's nothing wrong with them. I wanted to finish the inning but they didn't let me do it." He had already done enough.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.