First baseman Justin Morneau was back in the lineup after missing two months with neck surgery. Gardenhire was even able to joke about the fact that right fielder Michael Cuddyer injured his neck taking early batting practice and had to be scratched, meaning the Twins opening day lineup was intact for 25 minutes.
Five hours later, Gardenhire's mood had soured considerably. Several defensive misplays contributed to a 3-2 loss, the Twins' 10th in 12 games.
"We basically gave it away," Gardenhire said. "We missed a lot of plays. It's a tough loss for us. We need some people to play a lot better baseball. It's kind of embarrassing, to tell you the truth."
The defensive problems ruined a strong performance by Carl Pavano, who allowed two runs in 7 1-3 innings. He was pulled after Travis Hafner singled with one out in the eighth and Minnesota holding a 2-1 lead. Glen Perkins (4-3) relieved and Santana hit a booming double to right-center field to score pinch-runner Michael Brantley with the tying run.
With two outs, Matt LaPorta's blooper dropped in front of diving left fielder Ben Revere for the go-ahead run.
While the lead was lost in the eighth, Gardenhire thought the Twins' defensive issues in the sixth played a major role in the defeat. Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled home both runs for Minnesota in the third and eighth, but he had a rough inning at shortstop in the sixth when the Indians tied the game 1-1.
After Ezequiel Carrera started the inning with a bunt hit, Nishioka couldn't handle Shin-Soo Choo's ground ball, a play that was ruled a hit. Jason Kipnis followed with a double-play grounder that Nishioka booted, but recovered to get Carrera at third.
Following a fielder's choice ground ball by Asdrubal Cabrera that left runners at the corners, Hafner bounced a ball that went just over the outstretched glove of Pavano. Nishioka came in from shortstop to field the ball, which glanced off his glove for an error, scoring Choo from third.
Nishioka then made a mental mistake when he forgot to cover second on Santana's ground ball to Morneau, who threw to Pavano at first for the inning-ending out.
Gardenhire was clearly unhappy with the play of his rookie infielder, who was signed in the offseason after playing in Japan the last seven years.
"It's part of growing up and learning," Gardenhire said. "Some balls were pretty hard at him. He made a mental mistake not covering second. I don't know how we got out of that one."
The Twins are on a critical road trip with two more games against the Indians and three in Detroit, which now leads Minnesota by 11 games in the AL Central. Gardenhire knows his team can't play this poorly if it wants to get back in the race.
"We got one error, but there should have been four," he said. "This is the major leagues and those balls are supposed to be caught. Those aren't base hits. Those are outs. I don't care what anybody says."
Pavano was diplomatic when talking about the defense.
"It's a game of inches," he said. "A ball here, a ball there, a bad hop."
Twins designated hitter Jim Thome remained two homers shy of 600 for his career. He went 0 for 2 with a walk, the 1,709th of his career — passing Hall of Famer Mel Ott for eighth all-time. He also is in eighth place on the home-run list.
Cleveland starter Justin Masterson allowed five hits and two runs over 7 2-3 innings.
Notes: Cuddyer was examined by doctors Friday and could return to the lineup Sunday. ... Casilla, activated Friday, left in the seventh tweaking his right hamstring running to first base. He had been on the disabled list with a strain in the same area. Gardenhire said he would know more about the injury Saturday. ... Each team started only one right-handed hitter in its lineup — LaPorta and Twins 3B Danny Valencia. ... The series' second game features a matchup of right-handers, Brian Duensing (8-10) for Minnesota against Josh Tomlin (11-5). Duensing beat the Indians 10-3 in Minnesota in April; Tomlin lost to the Twins 6-4 in Cleveland in June. ... Cleveland is expected to recall LHP David Huff from Triple-A Columbus to start Sunday.