SEATTLE - You could hear the impact from anywhere in Safeco Field, even hundreds of feet away, despite the thick padding, despite the crowd’s gasps of anticipation. It was the sound of Byron Buxton’s torso colliding with the center field wall, and of the Twins’ chances of beating baseball’s hottest team colliding with reality.
Buxton ran headlong into the wall in hopes of rescuing Jake Odorizzi and robbing Nelson Cruz, but the baseball sailed a few inches over his glove, leaving Cruz with a go-ahead two-run homer, Odorizzi with a deficit startling in its abruptness — and Buxton with bruises. Minnesota managed to tie the game, but Mike Zunino clobbered a middle-of-the-plate slider from Matt Magill into the left field stands in the 12th inning, handing the Twins their third straight loss, 4-3. It was the Minnesota’s seventh defeat in walk-off fashion in the season’s first eight weeks, and fifth by way of long-and-loud home run.
Zunino knows that feeling well; his last walk-off home run came against the Twins last here last June.
Buxton, who had the wind knocked out of him from the jarring sixth-inning thump, was removed from the game as a precaution, but passed a concussion test with no signs of a problem. He’ll be evaluated again on Sunday, but likely won’t miss any time.
The Mariners won for the seventh time in eight games and put eight full games between themselves and the dogpaddling Twins for the second wild-card spot in the American League, a deficit that looms larger as the Twins’ hitting slump continues to grow. Minnesota, which has lost a remarkable seven games this season in walk-off fashion, has scored three runs or fewer seven times in two weeks, and three would feel like a luxury lately; the Twins have five runs in their past three games.
Odorizzi is used to working without many runs behind him — his teammates have provided three or fewer in seven of his 11 starts — and he seemed up to the challenge on Saturday. The righthander, who had allowed only two runs over his last three starts, was as stingy as ever for five innings, surrendering only four hits, all of them singles, and never allowing a Mariner to reach third base.
But Odorizzi, at least this season, has been a third-time-through dilemma, allowing opposing hitters to amass a .795 slugging percentage when they face him for the third time in a game. Jean Segura only added to that number leading off the sixth inning, blasting a splitter from Odorizzi into the second deck in left field, immediately cutting the Twins’ lead in half. Guillermo Heredia followed by hitting a ground ball that took an unholy hop as it reached Gregorio Petit at shortstop; the ball scooted under Petit’s glove and wound up in left field, while Heredia wound up at second base.
Mitch Haniger walked, bringing up Cruz, who had homered off Odorizzi last season, too. When the count reached 2-1, Odorizzi tried a slider low and away, and Cruz hit it high and far. Buxton believed he had a chance to catch it, and sacrificed himself in the attempt, but couldn’t quite reach it.
The Twins didn’t go down without a fight, though, coming up with a two-out rally to tie the game in the eighth inning. Miguel Sano drew a walk from two different pitchers, with Nick Vincent throwing three straight balls before signaling to the dugout that something didn’t feel right. He was removed, and James Pazos, after watching a couple of long Sano clouts sail foul, eventually delivered ball four.
Eddie Rosario followed with a line drive to center field, and Eduardo Escobar smacked one to right, scoring pinch-runner Ehire Adrianza from second base. It was the first time the Twins had erased a deficit in the eighth or ninth inning since a Mitch Garver single in Anaheim on May 11.
But the Twins could never generate another run against a Seattle bullpen that owns the American League’s fourth-best ERA.
For the second time in 12 days, Wade LeBlanc looked like Whitey LeFord, tantalizing the Twins into trying to devour his left-handed soft-serve.
“Guys have a tendency when they see the radar gun down, they go up there thinking they’re going to hit every ball 450 feet. It doesn’t work that way,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “You’ve got to stay short, you’ve got to recognize that cutter, and if you get big on it, you’re going to pop it up like we did about 15 times last week.”
There were fewer popups this time, but no more offense. LeBlanc, a journeyman veteran, gave up only an infield hit over the first five innings, adding to the six scoreless he pitched in Target Field. The Twins finally broke through in the sixth inning — third time through the order, naturally — when Brian Dozier singled, Max Kepler doubled into the right field corner, and Eddie Rosario turned a line drive that glanced off first baseman Ryon Healy’s glove into an RBI double.