SEATTLE – The Twins left Safeco Field on Thursday night with a short-term goal to reach before the All-Star break, one that emerged this week:
Hit the break with a little momentum.
The Twins held off the Mariners 4-2 Thursday, winning the final three games of the four-game series after coming in having lost 10 of their previous 12. This victory was, however, a white-knuckle special.
Seattle loaded the bases three times with the heart of the order up but scored just one run. The Twins needed two replay challenges ruled in their favor to help their cause. And they used five pitchers on a night in which 11 were used by both clubs.
"I was not only eating the seeds," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, "I was eating the bag."
Kendrys Morales drove in two runs with a two-out, fifth-inning double, giving him five RBI in two days. Sam Fuld was 1-for-2 with a run scored and reached base in nine of his last 11 plate appearances in this series.
And righthander Yohan Pino (1-2) earned his first major league victory in five tries. Pino was sent back to Class AAA Rochester after the game, as the Twins needed his roster spot for Friday's starter at Colorado, Kris Johnson. But Pino was expected to start as scheduled once the Twins return home after the All-Star break.
Down 4-1, Seattle closed within 4-2 on Kyle Seager’s sacrifice fly to left. James Jones tagged and advanced to third, but the Twins challenged the call and replays showed he came off the bag as he was tagged. It was a huge play because it ended the inning.
Glen Perkins entered the game in the ninth and gave up a two-out single to Jones. That brought Robinson Cano up, but the All-Star second baseman, who already had three hits, hit a ground ball off Perkins' glove that was scooped up by shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who threw Cano out to end the game for Perkins' 22nd save.
The Mariners took what appeared to be a risky approach to the game. It was ace Felix Hernandez’s day to pitch, but he was pushed back so he could start Friday against AL West leader Oakland. Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon started one of his relievers, Tom Wilhelmsen (1-2), who was making his first career start in 191 appearances.
It was Pino who was struggled early, as he fell behind six of the first seven batters he faced. Seager opened the scoring with a solo home run to right in the second inning.
The Twins came right back in third. Fuld drew a one-out walk and Brian Dozier followed with a single. With Kurt Suzuki batting, the Twins pulled off a double steal. And, when Mike Zunino’s throw sailed down the left field line, Fuld scored to make it 1-1. Suzuki added a sacrifice fly that gave the Twins a 2-1 lead.
For Pino to get that elusive first major league victory, the 30-year-old rookie had to get through five innings. It was a challenge.
He loaded the bases in the third by walking Seager, prompting a visit from pitching coach Rick Anderson. Pino ran the count to 3-2 to Corey Hart before getting him to flail at a breaking ball to end the inning. That seemed to energize him as he finally got control of his curveball.
The offense gave Pino a cushion in the fourth when Morales smoked a two-run double over Jones’ head in center. The hit came off veteran lefthander Joe Beimel, who pitched in three games for the Twins in 2004.
In the fifth, Pino again loaded the bases by walking Seager, again bringing out Anderson. But with Anthony Swarzak warming up, Pino got Hart to hit a slow roller to first. Chris Parmelee and Pino combined to end the inning on a good play with the ball "spinning like a Frisbee," as Gardenhire said.
"It’s nice," Pino said. "I feel happy for me, my family and everyone on the team."
The Twins headed to Colorado to see if they can sustain success.
"We know we have been scuffling along here," Gardenhire said. "No one feels it more than us in the clubhouse. We have some health things and were trying to get through it and get some people back.
"We know we’re missing some people who we are going to get back after the All-Star break. But the guys here, we’ve got some people who are starting to swing the bat pretty good."