Home runs continued to fly Saturday night at T-Mobile Park, but it wasn’t the Seattle Mariners hitting them.
Minnesota combined for six homers in the second and third innings — Mariners starter Wade LeBlanc allowed a career-high four — to eventually coast to an 18-4 win in a nearly four-hour game, and set up a possible series sweep against the Mariners (22-26) in Sunday afternoon’s finale.
Every batter in Minnesota’s starting lineup recorded at least one hit, and the Twins combined for 19 total. The loss was Seattle’s most lopsided of the season. The 18 runs eclipsed the previous high for runs allowed by the Mariners, after Texas put up 15 during the last homestand. The six home runs the Mariners allowed was also a season high.
“They pounded us,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “What are you going to say? They hit the tar out of the ball tonight, we made a lot of mistakes. Our pitching is going through a tough spell right now. They are on everything, and I’d like to say, ‘It’s baseball,’ but we’ve got to make some adjustments.”
LeBlanc (2-1, 7.36 ERA) was making his first start since returning from the 10-day injured list. He missed more than a month with a strained oblique, last pitching on April 12 against Houston, but appeared back in form from the outset, throwing just six pitches to retire the Twins in order in the first.
But, his outing rapidly unraveled in the second. C.J. Cron knocked a one-out homer to left center before Max Kepler followed up with a double. Miguel Sano worked a nine-pitch at-bat, and eventually walked. Jason Castro then walked on four pitches, loading the bases.
LeBlanc’s first two pitches to Byron Buxton were called for balls — part of a string of seven consecutive pitches that were ruled misses — prompting Seattle’s dugout to exchange words with home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, with the crowd booing in the background. Buxton crushed the next pitch, a cutter LeBlanc left over the middle, to left for the second grand slam of his career, giving the Twins a lead that already seemed insurmountable at 5-0.
Minnesota added five more runs in the third — including three more homers — to push its lead to double digits. Cron hit another solo homer off of LeBlanc, and Sano tallied his first of the season two batters later. LeBlanc was pulled after 2 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs on seven hits, including the four homers, while striking out and walking two each. He threw 49 pitches, including 35 in the decisive second inning.
LeBlanc said he felt “completely normal” physically after returning from the injury, but struggled to locate pitches after the 1-2-3 first.
“They made adjustments, I didn’t,” LeBlanc said. “Simple as that.”
LeBlanc and Servais both emphasized they did not think LeBlanc returned to the rotation too soon, but needs to get back into a rhythm.
“He just ran into trouble in the second and wasn’t able to locate,” Servais said. “It happens. He hasn’t been out there a lot, obviously. I thought he was ready to go and take the start. We were going to be conservative tonight on the pitches anyway, but they were on him.”
None of the Mariners starters in the first three games of this series have pitched further than the fifth. Rookie Erik Swanson, who has since been optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, worked into the fourth in Thursday’s opener, but was pulled without recording an out, and allowed eight runs, including a career-high four homers. Seattle ace Marco Gonzales also struggled in his start Friday, allowing six runs (five earned) in five innings of work.
Mariners starters are averaging 5.4 innings per game this season, just ahead of the 5.3 MLB average. Their runs allowed per game (5.74) are second-worst in the majors.
“Our pitching has struggled in this series,” Servais said. “The Twins can hit, they’re swinging it really good. They’ve got power. We haven’t gotten them off anything. Tomorrow is another ballgame, but the last three nights have been rough on our pitching.”
After LeBlanc’s exit, rookie reliever Parker Markel allowed three runs on three hits in 2/3 innings, including a three-run homer to Jonathan Schoop. Mike Wright gave up five more runs (four earned) on five hits between the fourth and fifth, as Minnesota’s lead climbed to 15-0.
The Mariners managed just two hits — both Edwin Encarnacion singles — in the first four innings before rallying for a four-run frame in the fifth. All nine batters in the lineup made a plate appearance, and six recorded hits.
After Ryon Healy (single) and Jay Bruce (double) reached, J.P. Crawford hit a broken-bat RBI single, plating Healy for the Mariners’ first run. Bruce then scored on a wild pitch, and Mallex Smith singled in Crawford. Smith later scored on Daniel Vogelbach’s RBI single to right to make it 15-4.
Outside of the fifth, the Mariners recorded just four hits, were retired in order in four different innings, and combined for 14 total strikeouts. No batters walked.
Despite leaving the game with an 11-run lead, Twins starter Jose Berrios (6-2, 3.39) did not record the win, pitching just 4 2/3 while allowing four runs on eight hits with six strikeouts. Tyler Duffey picked up his first win of the season in relief.
Schoop homered for the second time in the sixth, taking Mariners reliever Ryan Garton, who was making his debut with the club, to right center with a two-run knock. Eddie Rosario later singled in a run off Cory Gearrin in the eighth.
No regular Mariners reliever posted a scoreless outing, though backup catcher Tom Murphy worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out both Sano — on a 90 mph fastball — and Castro. The two strikeouts he recorded were the first in his MLB career.
Murphy, who also played in left field during the game, said he pitched in high school, but has rarely played outfield anytime during his baseball career.
“It kinds of puts things in a little different perspective when you’re out there not just grinding away behind the plate,” he said.
Mariners rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.64) is scheduled to pitch Sunday’s series finale against the Twins. Right-hander Kyle Gibson (4-1, 4.26) is projected to take his turn for Minnesota.
First pitch is at 1:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports Northwest and 710 ESPN radio.