MINNEAPOLIS – There was the catch against the wall in foul ground by left fielder Ben Gamel. Check it out in the highlight clips. It might be a while before you see a better one.
And no surprise, Gamel’s catch dominated the post-game buzz in the Mariners’ clubhouse.
“That’s as tough as it gets,” right fielder Mitch Haniger marveled. “Especially down the line. It’s really hard to judge how much room you have before you hit the wall.
“Sometimes, you go up and hit the wall before you get to the ball. That was unbelievable. You worry about impacting the wall, and then you still have the ground to deal with.”
All true but beyond that is this: As bad as Tuesday’s blowout loss was for the Mariners, what loomed Wednesday was far worse.
They built a big early lead but missed chances to turn the game into a rout, and then had to hold for a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Edwin Diaz escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the ninth inning.
“Great job by our bullpen,” manager Scott Servais said, “against a team that has really been swinging the bat well.”
Minnesota rapped out 28 hits Tuesday in administering a 20-7 bludgeoning, but here were the Mariners, one day later, jumping to an early 5-0 lead against Ervin Santana, the Twins’ best pitcher.
“That’s what good teams do,” Haniger said. “(On Tuesday), I felt like we swung the bats pretty well. They just got to our pitching. You’ve got to put it behind you.”
Haniger got the Mariners started with a two-run homer in the first inning. Mike Zunino’s three-run drive in the third pushed the lead to 5-0, although there were danger signs, too. Lots of stranded runners.
It didn’t seem to matter.
Rookie Sam Gaviglio (3-1) retired 12 of 13 hitters in opening the game with four shutout innings before things changed.
Gaviglio gave up two homers in the fifth before exiting after serving up a two-run shot to Miguel Sano in the sixth. What had been a comfortable lead was now a tight game.
“They made him throw a lot of pitches,” Zunino said. “He threw everything early. When you see a guy a few times, you have to be really fine. And he let a couple of balls get over the middle, and they made him pay.”
James Pazos nursed a two-run lead into the eighth, which is when it got hairy – Gamel-themed pun intended – after Gamel’s spectacular catch.
Nick Vincent then gave up a single to Sano, which prompted a switch to lefty Marc Rzepczynski to face Max Kepler. The Twins countered by sending up Robbie Grossman.
Maybe it didn’t matter. Rzepczynski put the tying run on base with a four-pitch walk. Diaz replaced Rzepczynski and struck out Kennys Vargas, but that only got the game to the ninth inning.
The Twins put the tying run on base with one out, but Diaz buckled down with a strikeout and a fly ball in completing a four-out save.
“The pitching coach (Mel Stottlemyre) came to me and said, `You’re fine. Just make your pitch,’” Dias said. “I made my pitch to (Eddie) Rosario and struck him out.
“Then with (Brian) Dozier, I got the fly ball, and we got the win.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: Gamel made, perhaps, the Mariners’ best defensive play of the year when he held onto a high foul drive by Mauer for the second out in the eighth inning after slamming into the wall.
“I was just trying to make a play first and prepare for the worst later,” Gamel said. “I knew I was running out of room. I felt like I had to jump. That was really the only play I had on the ball.”
Gamel made the catch, slammed into the wall and fell face-first to the ground. After a moment, he flipped his hair back and held up his glove with the ball inside.
Third-base umpire Sam Holbrook signaled the out. The crowd ooohed-and-ahhed at the replay and then applauded.
Asked whether it hurt, Gamel smiled: “It didn’t feel good. All that spinning around. My left butt cheek hurts. I don’t know why.”
PLUS: Gamel also went 3 for 5 and raised his average to .341…Jarrod Dyson was 2 for 5 and is batting .345 (20-for-58) over his last 19 games…Pazos delivered a scoreless outing for the 11th time in his last 12 outings…Diaz recorded his second career save of more than three outs…Danny Valencia was 2 for 5 and is batting .323 since April 25.
MINUS: Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager were a combined 0 for 9. Seager was 0 for 5 and left six runners on base…Taylor Motter went hitless in four at-bats, which dropped his average to .201.
STAT PACK: Santana (8-4) entered the game with a 2.20 ERA while allowing a league-low 4.7 hits per nine innings. He had allowed one or no earned runs in 10 of his previous 13 starts.
“Ervin Santana has been one of the hottest pitchers in the league,” Servais said. “We really grinded at-bats and got his pitch count up. He was close to 50 pitches after two innings, and our guys just didn’t let up.”
The Mariners roughed up Santana for five runs and nine hits in five innings and, really, should have done more.
QUOTABLE: Haniger and Zunino each hit home runs against Santana and, coincidence or not, each were hit by pitches in subsequent at-bats.
Zunino and Santana exchanged words as Zunino went to first. The umpiring crew warned both benches at that point. There were no further incidents.
“He was pitching in all night,” Zunino conceded. “It’s just one of those things. It happens, and you get frustrated with it.”
SHORT HOPS: Shortstop Jean Segura said he felt fine after taking part in extra pre-game agility drills to test his recovery from a high ankle sprain. Even so, Servais is backing off his prediction that Segura might return to action this weekend at Texas: “I might miss it by a day or two.”
ON DECK: The Mariners and Twins complete their four-game series at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Thursday at Target Field.
Left-hander Ariel Miranda (6-2 with a 3.67 ERA) will oppose Minnesota right-hander Jose Berrios (5-1, 2.84).
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