The Minnesota Twins ventured into the great outdoors Friday, opening Target Field for a full house of gawking fans - even managing to save their first rainout for another day.
Matt Holliday and the St. Louis Cardinals left with an 8-4 victory in the exhibition game, but the customers didn't care about that. They were too busy admiring the $545 million open-air ballpark, which has replaced the Metrodome as the home of the Twins.
Steady rain fell throughout the morning and early afternoon, but it stopped two hours before the first pitch. The first few fans through the right-field turnstiles - Gate 34, in honor of the late Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett's jersey number - screamed in celebration as they sprinted to the seats like kids escaping the last day of school.
"The best part," Calvin Dauner, 12, said, "is that it's outside."
The crowd was announced at 32,995, not including 6,500 complimentary tickets given to construction workers and other people who helped build the limestone-lined facility nestled into the edge of downtown.
The sun even came out in the later innings, when veteran Jacque Jones entered and made a diving catch in right field to end a five-run eighth by the Cardinals that included a two-run double by Holliday against Pat Neshek. Holliday also hit a two-run drive in the fourth off Carl Pavano, followed by a homer from Colby Rasmus.
Jones, a regular for the Twins from 1999-2005 who will start the season in Triple-A, was greeted with a loud standing ovation when he batted in the eighth, looking overwhelmed by the welcome as he nodded his head in appreciation, but the star of the day was the ballpark itself.
Right fielder Michael Cuddyer came to the dugout about an hour before the game to check on the field. He looked out as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"It doesn't even feel like it's ours," Cuddyer said. "It feels like we're just in for a series."
The Twins and Cardinals play again Saturday afternoon, then scatter to start the regular season. The Twins go to Anaheim to play the Angels, and the Cardinals head to Cincinnati to face the Reds.
Red Sox 7, Nationals 2: Boston starter Clay Buchholz pitched six solid innings in his final spring training start against Washington.
The game was 1-1 until the Red Sox broke through against Mike McDougal in the sixth. Tug Hulett scored on the second of back-to-back wild pitches, and Angel Sanchez and Bill Hall had RBI singles before Jason Varitek hit a three-run double.
Buchholz allowed just one run on two hits and a walk. Both hits came in the first inning and Buchholz retired the final 16 Nationals he faced.
Varitek's three-run double gave Boston a 7-1 lead, before the Nationals cobbled together a run off of Ramon Ramirez and Daniel Bard in the eighth, when Cristian Guzman's sacrifice fly brought home Adam Fox.
The teams play an exhibition game Saturday at Nationals Park as they work their way north. The Red Sox open the season Sunday night at Fenway Park against the New York Yankees, while the Nationals open Monday at home against Philadelphia.
Rays 4, Mets 2: Matt Garza pitched five scoreless innings in his final tunep for the regular season, helping Tampa Bay beat the New York Mets to clinch the best spring training record in the major leagues.
Garza allowed one hit, walked two and struck out six. Three other pitchers limited the Mets to one hit before Mike Jacobs broke up a shutout bid with a two-run homer off Lance Cormier in the ninth.
Pat Burrell drove in Tampa Bay's first run with a second-inning double off Mets starter Mike Pelfrey.
Kelly Shoppach had a run-scoring single in the seventh off Fernando Nieve, and the Rays tacked on a pair of unearned runs to make 4-0 in the eighth.
The Rays improved to 20-8-2 this spring and close out their exhibition schedule at Triple-A Durham Saturday. They also had the top spring training record in the majors two years ago, when they went on appear in the World Series.