By Bob Dutton
The News Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS — If veteran Seattle Mariners pitcher Chris Young was due for a clunker after winning his past three starts, Friday’s outing probably qualifies. Although it’s not as if he got shelled in a 5-4 loss to Minnesota at Target Field.
Yes, Young gave up a career-worst seven extra-base hits, but he also lasted seven innings — and not because of some save-the-bullpen mode. The Mariners had an open date Thursday and another coming up on Monday.
Young just wasn’t sharp, which permitted the Twins to build a 5-1 lead through seven innings behind Kyle Gibson. When the Mariners finally roused themselves against Minnesota’s bullpen, the climb was too much.
“It wasn’t my best,” Young acknowledged. “When I made a mistake, they hit it. And when I felt I made a good pitch, they hit it, too. Some nights, you run into a hot team; you tip your hat.”
Which is baseball speak for saying: You lose.
It got interesting in the ninth inning, however, when the Mariners put the tying run at third base with one out before Twins closer Glen Perkins wiggled free and closed out Gibson’s victory.
Michael Saunders led off with a single, his third hit of the game, and went to second base on a wild pitch before reaching third on Robinson Cano’s grounder to second.
The threat dimmed when Corey Hart popped out to first.
“I saw a slider up,” he said. “It was something I could, at least, hit in the air. I just got under it. Those are the situations you want to be in. It’s tough when you don’t get it done.”
When Perkins turned Justin Smoak’s nubber into the third out for his 11th save in 13 chances, the Mariners had a third straight loss and dropped, at 20-21, below .500 for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Young is often characterized as a fly-ball pitcher but, generally, that’s only true on occasions, like Friday, when things don’t go particularly well. In top form, he is more of a pop-up pitcher.
Opposing hitters tend to get under the ball and make marginal contact. Too often Friday, that didn’t happen. Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe, in particular, feast on high fastballs. And they did so again.
“They barreled some high balls that have either been popped up or swung on and missed,” Young said. “I’m not going to read too much into it. Sometimes, you’ve just got to give them credit.”
Minnesota bunched three doubles in a three-run third inning, one to each field and each one was hit hard.
Aaron Hicks lashed a leadoff double into the right-field corner; Dozier opened the scoring with a one-out double into the left-field corner; and Plouffe made it 2-0 with a two-out double to deep center.
The Twins added single runs in the fourth and fifth innings on fly balls, by Josmil Pinto and Dozier, with sufficient carry to clear to left-field wall. Not boomers. But enough.
Young (3-1) saved his best work for the sixth after Kurt Suzuki led off with a sharp double to left. Young walked Pinto with one out but should have recorded an out, somewhere, on Hicks’ squibber to the left side.
Young and third baseman Kyle Seager each went after the ball, which meant when Young made the pick-up nobody was covering third — which is where Young first looked to throw.
Young then looked at second, too late, before throwing to first, too late, and the bases were loaded. Eduardo Escobar’s single to left extended the lead to 5-1 before Young retired the next two hitters.
Gibson (4-3) entered the night with a 4.74 ERA, but yielded just one run and six hits in seven innings. That one run came on a Cano double in the fifth inning and ended a Mariners scoreless streak at 21 innings.
“He was mixing up his pitches,” Saunders said, “and working that change-up off the heater. He’s got pretty good sink. You saw a lot of lefties roll over ground balls to second base.”
Everything changed when Caleb Thielbar replaced Gibson to start the eighth inning. Smoak punched a one-out single to right field and went to second base when Thielbar walked Seager.
Dustin Ackley followed with a two-run triple into the right-center gap.
That finished Thielbar.
Mike Zunino sent Casey Fien’s first pitch to deep right center, but Hicks ran down the ball at the wall, which limited the damage to a sacrifice fly. The Mariners were back to within 5-4. That was it, though.
“The guys gave it a fight,” Young said. “They tried to come back and bail me out. I just dug them too deep of a hole.”