SEATTLE – Baseball’s home run explosion is quickly, and a bit suddenly, engulfing Hector Santiago.
The now-you-see-it lefthander, a fly ball pitcher who sometimes flirts with round-trip disaster, surrendered a three-run homer to Robinson Cano just three batters into Tuesday’s game, and the Mariners piled on from there. Seattle routed Santiago just two innings later, raked Minnesota’s bullpen, too, and walked away with a 12-3 victory over the Twins.
The game got so out of hand, catcher Chris Gimenez made his fourth relief appearance of the season — and Eduardo Escobar made his catching debut, in his 525th career game.
“I don’t find it humorous or comical,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said of his unique late-inning substitutions. “It’s just an [opportunity] to give him a little experience back there.”
He finds nothing humorous about the Twins’ tendency to get blown out, either. Tuesday’s loss, though only their third in their last 15 road games, was their sixth loss by at least nine runs this season. Even during their disastrous 2016 season, they suffered such lopsided losses only five times all year.
Those routs have exacerbated another alarming statistic: Minnesota has been outscored by 28 runs this season. Only last-place Kansas City (minus-52) and Oakland (minus-57) have worse run differentials than the still-in-first-place Twins.
Santiago retired only eight batters, and while Cano’s cannon blast — which landed a dozen rows back in Safeco Field’s right-center corner — was the only one he allowed in that short stint, it continued a worrisome trend for the lefthander. He’s allowed home runs in six consecutive appearances, just one short of his longest streak ever, and has given up 11 home runs in that time — a stretch of just 22 2/3 innings.
“Honestly, it just seems like every time I miss over the plate, they’re hitting it,” said Santiago, whose last quality start came on May 9. “You try to be as fine as you can and as good as you can be, but those guys are supposed to hit mistakes.”
They’re doing a lot of that lately, after he was so effective in April. Santiago’s ERA, 2.43 entering May, is 7.64 ever since, having ballooned to 5.26 for the season.
“He walked four guys and they all scored,” Molitor said. “It just puts you in a bad spot.”
He just couldn’t find the right spot. Santiago wasn’t coming particularly close to the strike zone against the first two hitters he faced, Guillermo Heredia and former Twin Danny Valencia, each of whom walked on 3-1 counts. That brought up Cano, who took a ball, then got behind 1-2 before crushing an 80-mph screwball.
“It was probably the right pitch, just the wrong location,” Santiago said. “Usually the first [screwball] in every game is the one you leave up. I wanted to go down and in, and it just spun up.”
The shame of it for the Twins was that they eventually got to Seattle starter James Paxton, who hadn’t allowed a run in five of his seven starts this season.
“We made their guy work,” Molitor said. “We had him up close to 100 pitches in five innings, but we couldn’t keep it close enough to make it a very good ballgame after that.”
The lefthander faced only nine batters in the first three innings, but Brian Dozier broke the spell with a fourth-inning home run, his ninth of the season. Miguel Sano doubled in the same inning and scored on a Max Kepler force out. An inning later, Joe Mauer singled home Byron Buxton for a third run.
But the game was long out of hand by that time. Santiago walked two straight hitters again in the third inning, and a Kyle Seager double and Taylor Motter sacrifice fly brought them home and ended his night.
Randy Rosario relieved, and while he ended the third inning without incident, he allowed five runs without recording an out in the fourth. Valencia smacked a bases-loaded double to bring home three runs and knock Rosario out, and Nelson Cruz scored Valencia with a single against Alex Wimmers. Then Kyle Seager launched a three-run homer, his sixth of the year, and the Mariners’ lead was double-digits.
All that was left was letting the catcher pitch. And he retired the Mariners in order.
“I think it was our cleanest inning of the night,” Molitor shrugged.