In a matchup between the two best pitching staffs in the league and two of the worst offenses, it certainly made sense to assume that the team that struck first would be in a good spot to hold on and emerge with a victory. It wasn’t quite that simple, however.
The Minnesota Twins got off to a strong start and made things interesting late, but it was the middle stages of the game that did them in.
Indeed, the Twins had baserunners early and often. Eddie Julien walked with one out in the first and stole second but was left there. Ryan Jeffers singled with two outs in the second but was stranded when Joey Gallo lined out to right.
The Mariners went down 1-2-3 in the first but quickly got two runners on in the second with singles from Eugenio Suarez and Cal Raleigh. Just as quickly, Twins starter Sonny Gray got out of the jam, inducing a double-play grounder from Teoscar Hernandez and striking out Ty France.
The Twins broke through in the third with consecutive doubles by Michael A. Taylor and Carlos Correa, both on hanging breaking balls. Julien stayed through a high breaking ball of his own to slap a single to left and score Correa, giving the Twins a 1-0 lead. Byron Buxton struck out, bringing Alex Kirilloff up with one out. Kirilloff had battled in a long at-bat in his first time up, and he did it again, including a hard ground ball that appeared to hook over the first-base bag before striking the first-base umpire in the left leg, but the umpire called it foul. Kirilloff ultimately knocked a sacrifice fly to center, doubling the Twins' lead.
The Twins had another golden opportunity in the fourth as Max Kepler led off the inning with a double, but Jeffers flew out and Gallo and Taylor both popped out quickly to end the threat.
In the meantime, Gray set down nine consecutive Mariners batters before running into major trouble in the fifth inning.
After getting the first out, Gray gave up a double to Hernandez and walked France. Mike Ford was hit with a breaking ball on the toe of his back foot, loading the bases with one out. No. 9 batter Jose Caballero slapped a single into left to cut the Twins’ lead in half, but J.P. Crawford popped out to Carlos Correa for the second out.
Gray and Julio Rodriguez battled, but eventually, the Mariners’ star coaxed a walk, barely holding up on a check swing on a high fastball to drive in the tying run. Jarred Kelenic delivered the big blow, dumping a single into left to drive in two runs and make the score 4-2.
The Twins got one back in the top of the sixth on a Joey Gallo blast to center field, but the Mariners scored again in the bottom of the frame as Gray issued a four-pitch walk to Raleigh, who advanced all the way to third base on a pair of groundouts and scored on a wild pitch with Ford at the plate. Gray was replaced after Ford walked, and Oliver Ortega struck out Caballero on three pitches to get out of the inning.
Minnesota threatened again in the seventh. Correa walked but was followed by strikeouts from Julien and Buxton. Kirilloff singled to right and Donovan Solano walked, loading the bases for Kepler, but Max took a hack at the first pitch and bounced out to second base.
Ortega got two quick outs in the bottom of the seventh but gave up a single to Kelenic and a two-run homer to Suarez, and Seattle had a quick 7-3 lead. The Twins wasted a leadoff hit-by-pitch to Jeffers in the eighth but made things interesting in the ninth inning.
Julien pulled a hit into right field for his third hit of the night. Buxton struck out again and Kirilloff lined out to left, but Solano fisted a single to right field, putting the tying run in the on-deck circle. Kepler found himself down in the count 0-2, but ultimately pulled a hanging breaking ball into the seats in right to get the Twins within a single run and force Seattle to bring in closer Paul Sewald.
The game ended quickly, however. Sewald got Jeffers looking on a 2-2 fastball that was clearly outside as home plate umpire Jim Wolf’s strike zone continued its late-game expansion, and that was that.
- The Twins had at least one baserunner in every inning. But stop me if you’ve heard this one before ... they struggled with runners in scoring position.
- Gray was amazing early, but uncharacteristically was the author of his own problems in the fifth and sixth innings.
- Buxton continues to look utterly lost at the plate, flying out twice to center field and striking out a pair of times in largely non-competitive at-bats.
- Matt Wallner got into his first game since his Friday call-up, pinch-hitting for Taylor in the eighth. He had to face a pair of 99-mile-per-hour fastballs on the black on the inside corner before flailing (understandably) at a nasty slider down in the zone in a three-pitch strikeout.
- Eddie Julien: 3-for-4, BB, SB
- Alex Kirilloff: 2-for-4, BB, RBI
- Max Kepler: 2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI, 2B
- Byron Buxton: 0-for-5, 3 K
- Sonny Gray: 5 IP, 5 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 5 K