MINNEAPOLIS - For all Scott Richmond endured to reach the majors, a two-run deficit in the first inning was hardly a challenge. Especially with the way the Toronto Blue Jays are swinging their bats.
Determination has defined this right-hander's long and unusual career. "I always loved baseball," Richmond, from North Vancouver, B.C., said after Wednesday's 12-2 win over Minnesota Twins. "When you're from Canada, you've got to really, really love it, or be really, really good."
Aaron Hill went 4-for-5 with one of Toronto's four home runs in four innings against Minnesota starter Scott Baker, and the Blue Jays kept up their torrid pace at the plate with 16 hits - six for extra bases.
"They're unbelievable right now," said Richmond (1-0), who got one out in the seventh before being removed. "They know this is a year that we have a young staff, and we're going to need some run support along the way to keep us in games and stuff until we get our feet under ourselves."
Hill and Scott Rolen hit two-run shots against Baker, who came off the disabled list to make a forgettable first start of the season. Vernon Wells and Michael Barrett also went deep, sending Baker to an early exit.
"There's probably a mechanical adjustment that needs to be made," said Baker, who struggled throughout the exhibition season and gave up five hits and six runs while striking out three. "A little excited, and just basically wasn't finishing my pitches. It's not something I haven't dealt with before. A lot of times I just tend to want to watch and see where the pitch is going, instead of just letting it fly."
Richmond yielded just four hits, two runs (only one earned, due to a wild pitch) and three walks in a night on the job that was far more fun than when he laboured for a tugboat company in British Columbia until he was 21.
He pitched in college for perennial power Oklahoma State, but post-9/11 visa problems made it more difficult for him to get drafted. The Edmonton Cracker Cats, in the independent Golden Baseball League, was his only call. Finally, through connections made on Canada's national team, Richmond drew interest from the Blue Jays and pitched his way to a September callup last year.
He'll turn 30 in August, but he's part of an inexperienced rotation behind ace Roy Halladay. Richmond didn't have an impressive spring, but the Blue Jays were sure pleased by this.
"He didn't give up. He just keeps battling out there," manager Cito Gaston said.
Just like his career.
"I never had an easy road. I always had to be a jerk and just try to work my way in and try and fight hard to get it and not take no for an answer," he said. "I don't accept getting hit around. I don't accept giving up runs."
Baker, whose opening day assignment was taken away by a sore shoulder, looked as if he was still in spring training. Manager Ron Gardenhire put no pitch-count limits on his purported No. 1 starter, whose injury cost him one turn in the rotation, and Baker threw almost 75 per cent of his pitches for strikes.
Major problem: He walked two batters, both immediately preceding homers.
Rolen went deep on an 0-2 pitch in the second inning after the Twins took 2-0 lead in the first, and Hill took an 0-1 offering into the left-field seats in the third for a 4-2 advantage.
Phil Humber was just as hittable in relief, surrendering six hits, three runs and an intentional walk while getting three outs.
"They're all trying to figure it out," Gardenhire said. "It's not a time to panic. We have a very good young pitching staff. Sometimes this is a good thing when they get beat around. They know they have to really step back and can't just throw your uniform out there and your glove out there. You have to work at it and make better pitches."
Notes: Gaston took extra pride in Wednesday's recognition of Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's skin-colour barrier. Gaston, the only black manager to win a World Series, was honoured last year by the Negro League Hall of Fame for a career achievement award in Robinson's name. "It goes way back. He changed the whole world," Gaston said. ... Gardenhire hasn't been ready to formally declare Toronto-born RH Jesse Crain his eighth-inning reliever, with RH Luis Ayala also up for the setup role, but Crain has been pitching this spring in pre-surgery form. A torn labrum and rotator cuff ended his 2007 season prematurely and 2008 was so-so, but Crain has allowed one hit in four innings to date. ... Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek was back at his job after taking 10 days off for health reasons.