SEATTLE — A crowd of 40,291 rolled into Safeco Field on Friday night — lured by post-game fireworks, a bomber hat giveaway and, yes, the first-place Mariners.
Felix Hernandez (aka the King) was on the mound against last-place Minnesota and, before game started, second-place Texas was already in a big hole against Pittsburgh.
It was all set up for a SoDo party. Especially after a first-inning homer by Franklin Gutierrez provided Hernandez and the Mariners with a quick lead and put the King’s Court in full voice.
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The Twins pulled even on Miguel Sano’s moonshot to start the second inning and then rocked the King for five runs in the third. Minnesota rolled from there to a 7-2 victory.
"It was my fault," Hernandez said. "I was leaving everything up. The curveball and change-up were up. I didn’t have any command on my fastball in that (third) inning."
At least Texas lost. So the Mariners’ lead at atop the American League West Division remained steady at 1 1/2 games. Not much else went right.
Hernandez’s ERA dropped to a league-leading 2.17 after a scoreless first inning before the Twins began buzzing. Hernandez (4-4) had not given up five earned runs this season in any of his previous nine starts.
Minnesota did it by batting around in the third inning.
Danny Santana led off with a double to right and went to third when Eduardo Nunez’s attempted sacrifice turned into a bunt single. Brian Dozier’s double off the center-field wall scored Santana for a 2-1 lead.
Joe Mauer made it 3-1 by serving a single into center field. It also put runners at first and third with, still, no outs. Hernandez then walked Sano before finally getting an out on Trevor Plouffe’s fly to short center.
But Robbie Grossman pulled a two-run double past first. The Mariners temporarily caught a break when the ball wedged under the pad. It meant Sano had to return to third.
Sano scored on Byung Ho Park’s squibber to third, although the Mariners got an out when Park inexplicably chose not to run to first. The Twins led 6-1. Hernandez finally ended the inning when Kurt Suzuki grounded out.
"I was flying open in the third inning," Hernandez said. "It was bad. I’ve just got to be more relaxed on the mound. It was all of my pitches. Mauer hit a curveball. It was up. Grossman hit a double on the change-up."
The Twins turned back into the Twins after that. Or Hernandez turned back into Hernandez. Maybe both. Whatever. It didn’t matter because the Mariners did little against lefty Pat Dean in his second career start.
"You tip your cap," catcher Chris Iannetta said. "He got us out."
Dean (1-1) got his first big-league victory by allowing just two runs and four hits in seven innings before relievers Ryan Pressly and Brandon Kintzler closed out the night.
"We were able to bunch our hits together to get our big numbers on the board," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I wasn't sure how to manage there at the end since we haven’t had a lot of five-run leads."
Hernandez gave up six runs and eight hits in six innings and ended the night with an ERA of 2.86.
"He’s a great pitcher," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s pitched a lot of great ballgames here. Tonight was not one of them. It happens. He’s going to start 34-35 games for us. I hope that’s the only one like that."
Not much of a party.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Eduardo Nunez appeared to be trying to make an out as he squared to bunt on multiple pitches in Minnesota’s third inning after Danny Santana’s leadoff double.
When Nunez finally got the bunt down, catcher Chris Iannetta waved off pitcher Felix Hernandez — by all appearances, the right call — and grabbed the ball. But Nunez beat Iannetta’s throw to first.
Instead of a sacrifice that put a runner at third with one out, the Twins had runners at the corners with no outs and the meat of their lineup coming to the plate. They scored five runs before the inning ended.
PLUS: Robinson Cano led off the fourth inning with his first triple of the season. It also extended his streak of reaching base at least once to 25 games…reliever Steve Johnson struck out five in a row after issuing a leadoff walk in the eighth inning. He has not allowed a run in his last nine innings over seven appearances.
MINUS: Reliever Joel Peralta gave up a two-out homer to Joe Mauer in the seventh inning. That makes four homers allowed by Peralta in 5 2/3 innings over his last seven outings…catcher Chris Iannetta was hitless in three at-bats and is now 8-for-54 in his last 17 games…left fielder Stefen Romero was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his first game after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma…shortstop Luis Sardinas struck out three times.
STAT PACK: Felix Hernandez entered the game with a 1.93 ERA against the Twins in 17 career starts. He was 4-0 with a 0.63 ERA in his five previous starts against the Twins. Go figure.
QUOTABLE: "It was not a great night all the way round," manager Scott Servais admitted. "It happens once in a while. Disappointing. Great crowd tonight. Really fired up for the weekend. Just not a good game."
SHORT HOPS: Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe left the game in the fourth inning because of a slight sprain in the medial collateral ligament of his right knee…Minnesota has won six of its last seven games at Safeco Field.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners