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MIN@BAL: Willingham belts a two-run shot in the ninth

BALTIMORE -- With Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span all healthy, along with new additions such as Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, the offense should be a strong suit for the Twins this season.

But it certainly wasn't the case on Opening Day, as it took until the ninth inning to mount a rally against the Orioles in a 4-2 loss on Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Twins managed just two hits in seven innings against right-hander Jake Arrieta before rallying late with a two-run homer from Willingham off Troy Patton in the ninth.

Danny Valencia walked and Chris Parmelee singled to put the tying runners on base with two outs, but closer Jim Johnson got Trevor Plouffe to ground out to short to give the Twins a loss in their season opener for the fourth straight year.

"We gave ourselves a shot," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The guys were into it. Willy hit the big home run, and we got ourselves in another situation where another big hit, who knows what happens, so that's a good thing, but a loss is a loss. We lost the ballgame, now you've got to come back tomorrow and turn the page and figure out a way to score some runs off their pitcher."

As Gardenhire pointed out, the Twins can at least take solace they battled back after struggling to get anything going against Arrieta.

It's a far cry from last year's Opening Day debacle that saw Minnesota lose to Toronto, 13-3, en route to a 99-loss season.

"We fought to the end, gave ourselves our chance," said Carroll, who went 0-for-3 with a walk in his Minnesota debut. "I think it can give you some sort of positive feeling going into the next day. Gets the first-day jitters out of the way. Hopefully we can go from here."

Arrieta kept the Twins in check over seven innings, giving up only an infield single to Span and a bloop single to Morneau in the fourth. Arrieta also walked two -- Carroll in the first and Mauer in the seventh -- but allowed just two runners to reach scoring position.

Minnesota right-hander Carl Pavano, making his third Opening Day start, didn't have his best stuff, surrendering four runs on five hits and two walks over seven innings.

Pavano admitted his velocity wasn't where it usually is, as his fastball averaged around 85 mph, which is about four mph slower than last season's average. But Pavano didn't want to use it as an excuse, as he missed with his location, especially against Nick Markakis, who went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer, an RBI triple and a walk against him.

"I've never been a guy who comes out of the gate as strong as I'll be the next couple of weeks," said Pavano, who has a career 4.76 ERA in April. "Right now, I'm a little lower than I've been in the past but you've just got to execute better pitches and it's not always about velocity. That's nice to have. I'll get there."

The Orioles scored in a hurry, when Markakis crushed a 1-0 pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run homer in the first. It marked his first opposite-field homer since 2008.

"If you look at my home runs, I don't think I had an opposite field home run last year at all and I was just up there looking for a good pitch to hit," Markakis said. "He left one over the plate and I put a good swing on it, and it ended up going over the fence."

Pavano was able to pitch out of some trouble later in the game, as he stranded Adam Jones at third base after he doubled to advance Markakis -- who walked to open the fourth -- to third.

He also left Markakis at third in the sixth, when Markakis hit an RBI triple off the glove of Doumit in right field. Willingham added an outfield assist that inning, getting Markakis at the plate as he tried to tag up on a fly ball hit by Matt Wieters.

Before their ninth-inning rally, the Twins managed to get two runners on base in the eighth on singles from Valencia and Span. But they couldn't cash in, as Carroll grounded out to end the inning.

"We made a run there at the end, but obviously not enough offense," Gardenhire said. "But the guys are getting after it. We'll see how it goes from here."

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