Back on the field, the Mariners appeared unfazed by the potential distraction of the Steve Clevenger controversy by rolling to a 10-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
They didn’t appear too fazed by the sad-sack Twins, either. And, actually, that represented a much-needed change; the Twins executed a three-game sweep in their late May visit to Safeco Field.
On Friday, though, the Mariners got a dominant start from James Paxton, who allowed just one tainted run in seven innings. And they blew open a close game with a six-run seventh inning against four Minnesota relievers.
“Pax threw the ball pretty well,” said designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who drove in four runs. “That’s the only thing we care about, what we can do on the field. Don’t worry about anything outside of the lines.
“If we do that, I think we should be in pretty good shape.”
Also encouraging: Much of the run production came from key guys. Robinson Cano had four hits, while Cruz had a two-run double and a mammoth two-run homer.
Cruz just missed a three-run homer earlier in the game when Minnesota center fielder Byron Buxton made a leaping catch at the wall. There was no doubt on his 454-foot drive in the eighth inning off the batter’s eye.
“I told the guys,” Cruz said, “`I need to hit it so he can’t catch the ball.’”
It was all welcome and needed because it wasn’t a great night for the Mariners elsewhere around the American League. Toronto, Detroit and Baltimore all won.
The Mariners did pull ahead of Houston, but the updated math shows them still trailing Detroit by two games in the race for the final wild-card berth with nine games remaining in the regular season.
Baltimore is one-half game behind Detroit.
Paxton (5-7) allowed one run and five hits over seven innings while striking out nine and walking none. Dan Altavilla and Arquimedes Caminero closed out the victory.
“The curveball was big,” Paxton said. “Being able to throw it for strikes early in the count was big because they couldn’t just cheat on the fastball And burying it late, because I was throwing it for strikes, they had to swing.”
It was the Mariners’ first game since Clevenger, an injured catcher not accompanying the club on its road trip, created a social-media firestorm Thursday by posting two racially-insensitive messages on Twitter.
The Mariners responded earlier Friday by suspending Clevenger without pay for the balance of the season — and then sought to put the incident behind them as they continued their postseason quest.
“This is the time of the year,” Cano said, “where I don’t want to focus on anything else. I don’t have any comment on that. Just keep moving forward.”
Twins starter Kyle Gibson (6-11) needed 99 pitches to make it through five innings but gave up just two runs before the Mariners feasted on the Minnesota bullpen.
The six-run seventh inning started against lefty Ryan O’Rourke when the Mariners went to their bench for right-handed hitters.
Guillermo Heredia batted for Nori Aoki, drew a leadoff walk and raced to third when Franklin Gutierrez, who batted for Seth Smith, punched a broken-bat single into left.
After Ben Gamel replaced Gutierrez as a pinch-runner, Cano lined an RBI single off the glove of second baseman Brian Dozier for a 3-0 lead.
J.T. Chargois replaced O’Rourke and threw one pitch, which Cruz lined into the left-center gap for a two-run double. Buddy Boshers replaced Chargois and yielded an RBI double to Kyle Seager.
Leonys Martin struck out before Mike Zunino sent an RBI single to left — and two errors by Robbie Grossman on the same play allowed another run to score.
The Mariners led 8-0.
Minnesota got its only run later in the inning after Gamel misplayed Miguel Sano’s leadoff drive to right field into a triple. Cruz’s homer in the eighth inning closed the scoring.
“Outstanding outing by Paxton…,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s nice to see the middle of our lineup come together. We haven’t had a game like that in a while. We struggled (offensively) in the homestand a little bit.
“Robby swung the bat very well tonight. Cruzie hit the ball great. Seager had really good at-bats. Those guys are huge. They’ve carried us all year. It’s nice to see them get going.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: The Mariners had already scored four runs in the seventh inning and had runners at first and second with one out when Mike Zunino punched an RBI single to left against Buddy Boshers.
The ball got past left fielder Robbie Grossman, which permitted Adam Lind and Zunino to reach second and third. Grossman then kicked the ball away while attempting to pick it up. Lind scored, and Zunino reached third.
The scoring was an RBI single and two errors on Grossman.
PLUS: Mike Zunino had two RBI singles, including one with two outs in the fourth inning that boosted the lead to 2-0…James Paxton threw just 85 pitches in seven innings…Nelson Cruz is 15-for-36 in his last eight games at Target Field with six home runs and 12 RBIs.
MINUS: Leonys Martin was hitless in five at-bats…Ketel Marte was 0-for-4 before punching a single to left in his final at-bat…right fielder Ben Gamel misplayed Miguel Sano’s leadoff drive in the seventh into a triple. The mistake allowed Minnesota to score its only run.
STAT PACK: The Mariners, at 81-72, clinched a non-losing record with nine games remaining. The Twins, at 55-99, must win their final eight games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1982, when they finished 60-102.
QUOTABLE: Robinson Cano went 4-for-5 but pointed particularly to two RBIs singles: “The biggest thing in this game is to do the job with men in scoring position. The only way you can win games is by scoring runs.”
SHORT HOPS: The game started after a 36-minute rain delay…the Mariners have won seven straight road games and are now 39-37 away from Safeco Field…the Twins have lost seven in a row…the Mariners were 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners