Byron Buxton is so hot, he received the ultimate compliment Sunday: The umpires believed the Mariners might have been throwing at him.
Yet for the second day in a row, he was upstaged by a Seattle player hitting .226 until now.
Buxton singled, doubled and homered in his first three at-bats, driving in four runs and raising his batting average to .481 on the season. But Kyle Seager, 1-for-7 in the series and homerless on the season, suddenly awakened the slumbering Seattle offense, cracking a solo home run that ended Matt Shoemaker's shutout and then blasting a three-run, game-winning homer in the ninth inning, rallying the Mariners to an 8-6 victory over the Twins at Target Field.
"We'll be fine," Shoemaker said after the Twins, who have been outscored 14-0 in the ninth and 10th innings this year, dropped the final two games in their three-game series. "We expected to win today, we should have won today, but yeah, we'll be fine."
The Twins blew a 6-0 sixth-inning lead when Shoemaker strangely transformed from untouchable to unsteady, giving up four runs in four batters, starting with Seager's blast into the right field seats. And in the ninth, with the Twins still clinging to a 6-5 lead, Seager followed back-to-back singles by blasting a 90-mph cutter from Alexander Colome over the right field wall.
It was the second time this season Colome surrendered three runs in the ninth to turn a lead into a loss after it happened on Opening Day at Milwaukee, and the second game in a row that Seager drove in a go-ahead run against the veteran righthander, too. Back-to-back unsuccessful outings earned Colome an emphatic show of support from his manager.
"He's our guy and we trust him implicitly late in ballgames," Rocco Baldelli said. The bullpen had been used a lot during the weekend, he added, so he didn't hesitate to use Colome on back-to-back days.
"A very good major league pitcher," Baldelli added of Colome, who had turned a lead into a loss only twice in the past two seasons. "[He] went out there and, obviously not what he's hoping to see, but [he's] a guy we signed to come in and give us big innings."
Buxton had been giving the Twins nothing but big innings lately, and maybe the Mariners are tiring of it. So the umpires seemed to believe when Buxton was hit by a pitch for the second consecutive day.
Will Vest's second pitch to Buxton in the seventh inning came in high and across the middle — of the batter's box. Buxton turned away and was struck on his uniform numbers, the umpires huddled and issued a warning about targeting hitters, and Mariners manager Scott Servais was ejected for profanely objecting.
"Obviously I don't know what's going through their heads," Buxton said. "[I'm just] trying to get on base. I kind of put [the question of intent] on the back burner and just go out and play."
Nelson Cruz drove in the Twins' first run with a sacrifice fly, and Max Kepler added a third-inning RBI in identical fashion. Buxton did the rest. He clubbed a bases-loaded double into the right field corner in the third off Mariners starter Chris Flexen. And in the fifth, after Flexen walked Cruz, Buxton crushed a first-pitch fastball 411 feet into the bullpens.
None of it mattered, ultimately, not after Shoemaker, who kept Seattle off-balance for five seemingly effortless innings, suddenly gave up four runs in the space of four batters in the sixth. And not after Colome finished up by giving up runs for the third time in five appearances.
But Buxton said the Twins clubhouse is not down, the players' confidence not shaken by the sudden turnarounds.
"We had a few games and they got away from us. But we've still got to come out and keep competing," he said. "We've got a long road to go, a lot of games left. We can't let these games get us down. We learn from them and keep going."