MINNEAPOLIS — The scenario to at least send it to extra innings was all set up for the Mariners on Friday night.
Down by a run in the top of the ninth inning, Michael Saunders led off the inning with a sharp single to left field off Twins closer Glenn Perkins.
With Robinson Cano at the plate, Saunders hustled to second on a wild pitch in the dirt.
That meant the Mariners had the tying run in scoring position with no outs and Cano, Corey Hart and Justin Smoak all getting a chance to drive it in.
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But Saunders never crossed home plate and the Mariners lost 5-4 at Target Field, falling below the .500 mark once again at 20-21.
How could they not score that run?
Cano, who had two hits in the game, didn’t get a hit but did provide a productive out, moving Saunders to third with a broken-bat ground ball to second base.
It set up Hart, the cleanup hitter, to tie the score. A ball that touched that grass or a fly ball to even mid-outfield would be enough to score Saunders.
He got neither, popping out to first baseman Joe Mauer.
“I saw a slider up and it was something I thought I could at least hit in the air,” Hart said. “I just got under it. It’s one of the situations you want to be in. It’s tough when you don’t get it done. But we’ll come back tomorrow and hopefully the situation comes up again and we’ll get it done.”
That left it up to Smoak with two outs. It’s not an ideal spot for a hitter, but Smoak came into the game leading major-league baseball with 19 two-out RBI. He wouldn’t get the 20th. Perkins got Smoak to hit a soft comebacker to the left of the mound, which he fielded and fired to first to end the game.
“Closers are closers for a reason, and he was able to get the job done,” Saunders said of Perkins.
The scenario was set up perfectly, but the run still never scored.
“I will take that situation, but I’d rather have better results,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.
The Mariners had few results against Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who pitched seven innings, giving up one run on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts. The rookie right-hander came into the game with a 3-3 record and a 3.74 ERA, but shut down the Mariners.
Or was it the Mariners’ hitters shutting themselves down?
“I’m not sure,” McClendon said. “You’ll probably have to ask our players. To be honest with you, I didn’t see anything special. That young man threw OK. But we probably could have did a little better if you ask them.”
Mariners’ hitters didn’t have much to say.
“He was working inside more than he has in the past,” Hart said. “He stayed in and then came out when he needed to. We just didn’t get a whole lot of good swings off of him.”
Said Saunders: “He was mixing up his pitches and working that change-up off the heater. He’s got pretty good sink. You saw a lot of lefties roll over on ground balls. He was pounding the strike zone. It felt like we were always behind.”
The lone run that Gibson allowed came in the fifth inning with Seattle down 3-0. Saunders drew a two-out walk and Cano ripped a deep fly ball to left-center. The ball bounced off the top of the wall, just missing a homer by inches. Cano settled for a double and Saunders scored from first.
Once Gibson left, Seattle got going against the Minnesota bullpen.
Trailing 5-1, Seattle scored three runs in the top of the eighth. Dustin Ackley laced a triple into the gap in right-center off Caleb Thielbar, scoring Justin Soak and Kyle Seager. Ackley scored on Mike Zunino’s deep sacrifice fly to center to make it 5-4.
The Mariners got a so-so start from right-hander Chris Young. The Twins weren’t confused by his 6-foot-10 frame, his different arm angle that seems to come from out of the sky or his deceptive velocity. Minnesota hit him often and hit him hard.
“It wasn’t my best,” he said. “When I made a mistake, they hit it. And when I felt like I made a good pitch, they hit it. Some nights you run into a hot team and you tip your hat.”
Young gave up 10 hits, including five doubles and two homers, and did not have a strikeout. The seven extra-base hits were a career high against Young and one shy of a club record set by Freddy Garcia in April of 2000 against Toronto. To only give up five runs was an accomplishment.
“I wish I could have kept them at three because we would have won the game,” he said. “I just wasn’t sharp as I needed to be. The ball didn’t have quite as much life as it needed to have. I dug the guys too big of a hole.”
The Twins jumped on Young in the third inning, scoring two runs on doubles from Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe.
The Twins added a run each of the next three innings. Designated hitter Josmil Pinto hit a solo homer in the fourth, Dozier hit his 10th homer of the season in the fifth, and Eduardo Escobar singled home Kurt Suzuki inn the sixth.
“He kept us in the ballgame, and we didn’t give him much support early,” McClendon said.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373