Sexson’s homer in 9th sends soaring Mariners to 4-3 win over Twins

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SEATTLE (AP)—Even after a two-run double to start his return home, Richie Sexson still heard boos.

“Nothing against them. I dug my own grave with the fans,” said the Seattle slugger who’s been in a season-long funk.

But Sexson rose from his ongoing burial in Seattle to give the fans something else to shout about. He drove Matt Guerrier’s second pitch of the ninth inning over the left-center field fence to send the soaring Mariners to a dramatic, 4-3 victory over the sinking Minnesota Twins on Monday night.

“Nothing surprises me this year,” Sexson said, with a chuckle. “I haven’t heard cheers here for a long time.”

Seattle’s first game-ending homer of the season clinched its sixth win in seven games and kept the Mariners one percentage point ahead of the New York Yankees in the wild card standings. Seattle inched to within three games of the idle Los Angeles Angels atop the AL West.

“We were more happy for him than he was,” said Jose Vidro, who had three hits and an RBI. “If he gets hot now, it could be huge for us.”

After a two-run double off the top of the fence in left-center field against Johan Santana gave Seattle an early lead, Sexson struck out twice—and got booed some more.

“With three or four years of not winning here, it’s kind of strange that we’re winning and they’re booing,” Sexson said. “Guess that’s not how Seattle rolls.”

But in the ninth, Sexson drove a low, 1-0 slider from Guerrier (1-4)—after the pitcher shook off catcher Joe Mauer’s sign for a fastball. Sexson’s 19th home run landed in the Mariners bullpen just below a scoreboard proclamation in huge block letters, “Funk Blast,” to send Seattle to a season-high 16 games over .500.

As teammates sprinted out of the dugout and mobbed an apparently underwhelmed Sexson at home plate, the boos became thunderous cheers.

“I’m sure tomorrow if I make an out, they’ll boo me again,” Sexson said.

Santana allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings but Minnesota still lost its fifth consecutive game. It was the 10th time this season the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner has gotten a no-decision despite allowing three earned runs or less.

The Twins are two games under .500 for the first time since June 9.

“We’re trying too hard,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Kind of the same old story.”

Sexson’s fifth career game-ending homer left his batting average at .210. That’s 14 points higher than it was when manager John McLaren benched him for the final two games of the previous homestand, on which Mariners fans roasted their $14 million-per-year hitter as if he had just outlawed coffee.

“That was a negative, testy situation for me … They just boo me because they want me to be better,” Sexson said, trying hard not to criticize the home folks.

But he added that his teammates have been talking about what a “mystery” it is that they are booing a winning team.

“It’s frustrating because you put in so much work, but they don’t see that,” he said.

Felix Hernandez, pitching against the Twins for the first time since he strained a forearm against them April 18 and then spent almost a month on the disabled list, was poised for his third consecutive win after allowing four hits and one run on 110 pitches in six innings. But John Parrish, acquired last week from Baltimore, walked Jason Tyner and allowed a single by Nick Punto to begin the seventh.

After a sacrifice bunt, Jason Bartlett hit an RBI groundout to make it 3-2 against Sean Green, and Mauer followed with a fly ball near the left-field line. Adam Jones, the heralded prospect, ran far from left-center but had the ball carom off his glove for a double. Punto scored to tie the game on Mauer’s third hit while Jones banged his right knee into the stands and then fell in among the fans.

Jones was giving Raul Ibanez a day off in left. Ibanez, the AL Player of the Week for going 13-for-27 with five homers and 11 RBIs on a six-game road trip, was the designated hitter.

Justin Morneau, last season’s AL MVP, went 1-for-4 and is 6-for-43 (.140) in his last 11 games. He fought Hernandez for nine pitches before chasing a fastball far wide and high to strand two men and end the first. Morneau admitted before the game to being more fatigued than he’s ever been as a professional.

Morneau has company in his funk. Michael Cuddyer went hitless and is 4-for-41 (.098) in nine games while trying to get back into form following a stint on the disabled list for a sprained thumb.

Minnesota produced three runs or less for the 11th time in 12 games.

Note:@ J.J. Putz (2-1) pitched a scoreless ninth for the win. … 3B Adrian Beltre was not in Seattle’s lineup for the first time since June 17, when he was ending a five-day hiatus because of a thumb injury. McLaren said he’d been wanting to give the stubborn Beltre a break for a while. Willie Bloomquist started for Beltre and made two fine plays on slow grounders in the sixth.

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