MINNEAPOLIS – Maybe the Mariners should play all of their games in subfreezing temperatures because their woes when hitting with runners in scoring position disappeared in the frigid Midwest air like the heat of a warm drink.
With a first pitch temperature of 27 degrees – the coldest for a first pitch in both the Mariners and Twins franchise histories – and with a wind-chill in the teens, Seattle banged out 12 hits, including going 5 for 9 with runners in scoring position. That added up to a decisive 11-4 win over the Twins.
“We’re missing a few guys, but we’re still a deep lineup,” catcher Mike Marjama said. “This is a team that can put up some runs. It was nice to see a big number up on the board today.”
Coming into Saturday’s tilt on the tundra of Target Field, the Mariners were 3 for 29 with runners in scoring position in their previous two games. But that situation was rectified on a day more suited for sledding than baseball.
“Our guys were ready to go on a really challenging day to play with the temperatures where they were at,” manager Scott Servais said. “It was mind over matter. And if you don’t mind it, sometimes it doesn’t matter.”
Ryon Healy delivered the crucial hit in the five-run eighth inning, turning a 5-3 game into a rout. Having been robbed of a sure double in the second inning, Healy made sure his last line drive wouldn’t be caught. With the bases loaded, Healy roped a shot into the gap in left-center that cleared the bases to make it 8-3.
“Big hit by Healy,” Servais said. “It was nice to see him come through in that situation. He needs a few more of those. He’s hit a few balls hard and hasn’t had a lot to show for it.”
The next batter, Guillermo Heredia, who had subbed in for Ichiro Suzuki as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning, pulled a homer off the foul pole in left field to make it 10-3. The Mariners had homers off each pole in the game with Kyle Seager hitting the right-field foul pole for a two-run homer in the third inning.
“We’ll take it – the field was just wide enough,” Servais said.
It wasn’t trending toward an offensive explosion early. Seattle failed to get a baserunner for the first three innings against Twins starter Jose Berrios, who was coming off a shutout in his first outing. But the Mariners broke through for five runs over two innings, knocking Minnesota’s ace out of the game.
Jean Segura broke up the early no-hit bid with an infield single. He advanced to second on a throwing error by Miguel Sano and scored on a single to center from Robinson Cano. Seager then notched his first homer of the season, and the two-run shot made it 3-0.
“Better fair than foul,” he said. “I hooked it enough and thankfully it stayed fair. You have two outs and Robbie on first; you are just trying to drive the ball a little bit.”
Seattle pushed the lead to 5-0 in the fifth inning on a two-run single from Dee Gordon, who pushed a ground ball up the middle past the drawn-in infield.
“I didn’t try to do too much with it,” Gordon said. “I can’t drive the ball out of the ballpark whenever I want to. I was just trying to scratch some runs anyway possible.”
The single on an inside pitch also left a stinging memory on the Florida native’s hands.
“I just know it hurt,” he said.
That lead seemed to be enough for Mariners starter Mike Leake (2-0), who worked the first five innings without allowing a run despite issuing four walks. He had allowed just one hit and seemed poised to give the Mariners six innings.
However, Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano started off the sixth with back-to-back “doubles” that forced Leake from the game with a slew of left-handed hitters coming to the plate.
“In cold games like this, you are trying to get a feel on every pitch within reason,” he said. “I don’t think this is baseball weather, but it’s all right. We came out with a win.”
The double to Mauer should have been caught on the warning track, but Ichiro didn’t quite get to the ball. The second double, over Ichiro’s head, might have also been catchable.
“The balls seemed like they hung up there for a while,” Servais said. “Were they plays that could’ve been made? They might’ve been tough, but they are probably plays you are accustomed to seeing him make. Those guys were standing out there a long time. It’s 25 degrees so you probably aren’t going to have the same range and mobility as normal.”
Leake’s replacement, Marc Rzepczynski, gave up two hits that scored two more runs, and left after getting just one out. Right-hander Dan Altavilla cleaned up the mess of an inning, retiring the last two batters.
The Mariners found themselves in another minor jam in the seventh. The Twins loaded the bases with one out against Nick Vincent. Servais called on right-hander Juan Nicasio. The veteran struck out Eddie Rosario and got a pop out in foul territory to end the threat.
“I made my pitches,” Nicasio said. “It was a little tough with the cold. My velocity was OK. I was looking for a ground ball. I was looking for a double play.”
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