It was gone from the moment it left the bat. Improbably gone. Majestically gone. Mike Zunino had not even left the batter’s box before the Mariners cascaded out of the dugout in celebration.
Zunino rocked a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning Wednesday night that propelled the Mariners to a 6-5 walk-off victory over the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field.
"That’s the swing that, for the last month, I’ve been trying to get to," Zunino said. "Obviously, the pitch is going to dictate where you hit it. But I got to a spot against a guy who has a good sinker.
"He likes to stay away, and I was just trying to elevate it. I was able to get that pitch and stay inside it."
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It was Zunino’s second homer of the game. It was the Mariners’ fourth homer of the game. Heck, they only had five hits in all. Their only non-homer was Ben Gamel’s two-out single in the ninth prior to Zunino’s blast.
Zunino worked the count to 2-1 against Twins closer Brandon Kintzler (2-1) before — key point here — driving a pitch 437 feet to the right side of dead center.
"He didn’t try to pull the ball," manager Scott Servais said. "He just put a good swing on it, and he’s very strong. A lot of power. He’s just got to make good contact."
Oh, Zunino made good contact.
"I squared it up pretty good," he said. "That part of the park, you never know, but I hit it pretty well."
The Mariners won for the ninth time in 10 games and pulled back to .500, at 30-30, for the first time since May 10. They also jumped past Los Angeles into second place in the American League West Division.
They also overcame another maddening start from Yovani Gallardo, who again fell victim to a one-inning meltdown. It was a four-run fifth inning, in this case, and everything started with two outs.
The Mariners led 2-1 at the time after back-to-back homers by Zunino and Chooch Ruiz in the second inning against Minnesota start Adalberto Mejia.
Gallardo gave up a double to Ehire Adrianza, then walked Brian Dozier before yielding a game-tying single to Joe Mauer. Miguel Sano followed with a three-run bomb to left.
The Twins led 5-2.
"After that," Gallardo said, "it’s just a matter of putting up zeroes. Going seven innings is big. It shows my pitch count was down and that I was able to get out of jams early."
True enough. Except for that brief hiccup, Gallardo was in command, which presented the Mariners with a comeback opportunity.
Tyler Smith’s sacrifice fly later in the fifth inning pulled one run back against Mejia before the Twins turned to their bullpen.
Kyle Seager made it 5-4 with a one-out homer in the sixth against Tyler Duffey, but the Mariners were down to their last out when Gamel punched a single up the middle against Kintzler.
"I worked from behind all night," Gamel said. "I didn’t put myself in a good position to hit. I finally got into a pretty good hitter’s count, and I was looking for a fastball over the plate."
Then it was Zunino.
"Edgar (Martinez) said this is a good matchup," Servais said. "This guy (Kintzler) throws a good sinker, and that’s what Zee hits. Lo and behold, three pitches later, we’re walking away."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Center fielder Guillermo Heredia charged in for a diving catch on Robbie Grossman’s sinking liner with no outs and a runner on first base in the Twins’ fourth inning.
PLUS: Ruiz served as the designated hitter because Nelson Cruz is again battling a strained right calf muscle — and because Servais wanted to load up the lineup with right-handed hitters. Ruiz responded with a Cruz-like homer into the upper deck in left field in the second inning…Gamel’s single in the ninth extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
MINUS: Danny Valencia was ejected by home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna after grounding out to end the eighth inning. Players on both clubs had questioning looks at Iassogna throughout the game, but Valencia put his thoughts into words. "I didn’t even say anything bad," Valencia said. "I just told him the game was on TV."
STAT PACK: The Mariners hit a season-high four homers. Ruiz’s homer was his first since April 27, 2016 while playing for Philadelphia at Washington and ended a drought of 220 homerless at-bats.
QUOTABLE: "This was a big one for us," Zunino said. "It’s always good to win those games where you put up a bunch of runs early. But to be able to come back like that… Hopefully, we can keep this going."
SHORT HOPS: Edwin Diaz (2-2) got the victory after pitching a scoreless ninth inning…the Twins acquired one-time Mariners right-hander Chris Heston prior to the game from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a waiver claim. The Dodgers grabbed Heston from the Mariners in a May 26 waiver claim.
ON DECK: The Mariners and Twins conclude their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Thursday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Christian Bergman (3-2 with a 4.36 ERA) will oppose Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson (2-4, 7.23).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
The first 5,000 fans through the gates get a pair of Funny Nose Glasses as part of the club’s 40th anniversary celebration. A similar pair of glasses was popularized in a 1981 commercial by Tom Paciorek.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners