MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Once again, the Minnesota Twins got ‘em over and got ‘em in. They picked up another victory by piecing together well-timed contact, surprise and speed.
Joe Mauer homered and scored three times, sliding home in the ninth inning on Brian Buscher’s sacrifice fly to lift the Twins over the Seattle Mariners 7-6 on Saturday and keep them tied for first with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central lead.
“Doing the little things like to win ballgames, that all adds up,” Mauer said.
Ichiro Suzuki’s two-run single capped a six-run rally in the sixth that put the Mariners ahead 6-5, and manager Ron Gardenhire blamed himself for not calling for intentional walk. But Jason Kubel’s pinch-hit single off Cesar Jimenez (0-2) tied it in the eighth, setting up the winning rally.
“I’d much rather see six three-run homers,” Gardenhire said. “We take ‘em however we can get ‘em.”
Mauer singled against Jimenez with a single off diving third baseman Adrian Beltre’s glove, and Justin Morneau followed with another single. Miguel Batista relieved, and Delmon Young dropped down his first career sacrifice bunt.
“I just tried to hurry. I didn’t get anything on the ball,” Reed said.
The Twins are next-to-last in the league with 87 home runs, but they lead the majors with 52 sacrifice flies and are also best in baseball with an always-important .317 average with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve seen that quite a bit over the years,” said Nick Punto, who contributed two singles—including one bunt, of course—and seven assists at second base.
Minnesota starter Scott Baker had a 5-0 advantage after five innings, but it wasn’t a breeze. The Mariners helped him out by grounding into three double plays, before taking their brief lead.
“Been five weeks worth now about just like that,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “Our wins have been like that. Our losses have been like that. So our ballclub is playing in a real intense atmosphere, considering where we are in the standings. We’re playing first-place clubs, and the games have been coming down like that. Too often we’re coming up on the short end.”
After a single and a walk to start the sixth, Beltre doubled in the first run. Jeff Clement’s slow-rolling single up the middle with one out scored two more.
Reliever Jesse Crain walked Brian LaHair with two outs and gave up an RBI double to Yuniesky Betancourt. Craig Breslow came in, and Suzuki slapped his opposite-field single to left. But Breslow worked 2 1-3 scoreless innings after that, and Dennys Reyes (3-0) pitched a perfect ninth.
That bailed out Baker, who has failed to finish six innings in three of his past five starts. Gardenhire said he’s “yanking pitches as bad as he’s yanked ‘em in awhile.” The manager resisted temptation to let him stay in the sixth and save his overexposed bullpen.
“At this point in the season, a win is a win and we’ll take it,” Baker said.
Mauer muscled his eighth homer to the opposite field in the first inning and drove in another run with a single in the second. Young and Randy Ruiz also hit RBI singles, and Morneau drove in a run with a double against Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith.
Despite an opening day payroll of nearly $118 million, the Mariners have been playing for next year for months amid firings, clubhouse dissension and general dysfunction. Recalled last week from a stint in Triple-A, Rowland-Smith had mixed results in his second audition for the 2009 rotation.
The 25-year-old goggle-wearing Australian gave up 10 hits and two walks in five innings, throwing 89 pitches and striking out one.
“He hung in there real well,” Riggleman said.
Raul Ibanez was Seattle’s DH to save his lower body from the artificial turf, not because of defense. “He played a heck of a game in left field yesterday,” Riggleman said before the game. “He’s played a good left field all year. He really has.” … Twins INF Matt Tolbert, who had just become the regular SS when he tore a ligament in his left thumb diving into first base on May 15, is taking live batting practice and fielding grounders at the team’s minor league complex in Florida. He could be back in a few weeks. … This was Minnesota’s 17th straight crowd of 30,000 or more, the longest such streak since a team-record 26 in a row in the summer of 1988. … Before the decision was made to intentionally walk Lamb in the ninth, Suzuki was brought in from right field as a fifth infielder. He stood right on second base. “To be honest with you, when they first called me in, I thought they were calling me in to pitch,” he said with a laugh, through an interpreter.