Through the season’s first two months, the Seattle Mariners have submitted surprisingly few performances with which to reasonably quibble. They entered Sunday in first place in the American League West. They’ve come from behind in 13 of their victories. They’ve hit three walk-off home runs. They’ve yet to lose a road series.
Yet here they were at Safeco Field on Sunday afternoon, unable for the third consecutive day to accomplish what seemed one of the easier tasks in baseball this season.
They could not beat the Minnesota Twins — the struggling, sputtering, worst-record-in-the-A.L. Minnesota Twins.
Those Twins hammered Seattle starter Taijuan Walker for three home runs in the first four innings, chasing him before the end of the fifth in a 5-4, sweep-clinching Minnesota victory played before a crowd of 33,748 at Safeco Field.
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Franklin Gutierez’s two-out, two-run homer off Twins reliever Kevin Jepsen in the ninth gave the Mariners a chance, but pinch-hitter Dae-Ho Lee struck out to end the game.
The Mariners fell to 10-14 at home this season, a curious mark for a team that entered Sunday within a half-game of the best record in the A.L.
They did score, and lead, in each of the first two innings. Robinson Cano hit a line-drive over the right-field fence in the first, his team-best 15th home run of the season. And Kyle Seager scored on a wild pitch in the second after leading off that inning with a double.
But the Twins (15-34) got on the board with Robbie Grossman’s solo homer to right-center in the top of the second, then back-to-back home runs by Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano to start the fourth. Minnesota added another run on catcher Juan Centeno’s two-out, RBI double later that inning.
Walker was pulled with one out in the fifth after he walked Sano to load the bases. The Twins scored their fifth run on a fielder’s choice groundout by Grossman against Mariners reliever Vidal Nuno.
Nuno helped spare Seattle’s bullpen by pitching 2 2/3 mostly clean innings of relief, striking out four batters and allowing only one hit. Steve Johnson and Joel Peralta each worked a scoreless inning, too. But the damage was done against Walker, who was not the only Mariners starter to struggle this weekend against the league’s worst team.
Seattle (28-21) also didn’t hit much against Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, who struck out seven batters in six innings to earn his second victory of the season. Cano had his homer and a single. Seager had his double. That was it for the Mariners against Nolasco, though Gutierrez’s homer in the ninth -- after Adam Lind had singled with two outs and nobody on -- made it interesting. But the Twins still left Seattle with their first road sweep of the season.
Oddly, Safeco seems a fine place for visitors to make that happen.