Here it was Friday night, one of those games that will haunt the Seattle Mariners in terms of showing them what could have been this disappointing season.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker flashed the form that suggests, yes, he really is an ace in development. And the lineup rolled along with contributions from multiple sources.
That result was a 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
Start with Walker, who was magnificent in pitching a one-hit complete game in what, even he wryly admitted when pushed, was the finest outing of his still-young career.
“It felt pretty good,” he said, “and I think the big thing was throwing the curveball and throwing it for strikes. It kept them off balance, and me and ‘Z’ (catcher Mike Zunino) were on the same page the whole time.”
That one hit denied Walker a shutout. He yielded a two-out homer in the fourth inning to Miguel Sano on a low liner that rocketed over the left-field wall. Say this: It wasn’t cheap.
“A changeup,” Walker smiled. “I just left it down the middle, and he’s a big boy.”
That was about the only blemish on Walker’s 101-pitch performance. He issued one walk and matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts while improving to 8-7.
“Days like today are special,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “This guy, he’s got a great repertoire, man. When it’s on, it’s on. He’ll still throw a clunker out there every now and then, but he’s learning.”
There was more to like, too, as the Mariners ended a four-game skid.
Jesus Montero keyed a 13-hit attack by getting an RBI double and a homer in his first game back from Triple-A Tacoma. He also made a nifty short-hop pickup at first base on Eddie Rosario’s grounder in the second inning.
Nelson Cruz had four hits, including a two-run homer in the ninth that closed the scoring. It was his 27th homer of the season and boosted his average to .314.
Brad Miller had two sacrifice flies, while Mark Trumbo and Austin Jackson ignited run-scoring innings with successive singles in the second and fourth.
Infielder Ketel Marte arrived with Montero from Tacoma and made his major-league debut by replacing a still-ailing Robinson Cano at second base. Marte had a walk in five plate appearances.
There were smiles, for a change, throughout a clubhouse that sported a revamped roster with four additions in the first game after Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
The story, though, was Walker, who had allowed 22 runs and 26 hits in 21 1/3 innings over his four previous starts, which followed a seven-game stretch in which he compiled a 1.68 ERA.
“I was leaving the ball up the last couple of games,” he said. “This game, I kept the ball down and got some ground balls and pop flies.”
Minnesota lefty Tommy Milone (5-3) gave up 11 hits in six-plus innings but limited the damage to four runs. It could have been worse; he permitted just one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Milone worked around Cruz’s two-out double in the first by striking out Franklin Gutierrez, but the Mariners broke through after singles by Trumbo and Jackson put runners at first and third with no outs in the second inning.
The runners held on Montero’s fly to short right, but Trumbo scored on Miller’s sacrifice fly to center for a 1-0 lead.
Trumbo and Jackson also opened the fourth with singles. Jackson reached on a liner off Sano’s glove at third. Montero then pulled a line-hugger toward third that hopped past Sano for an RBI double.
“I put too much confidence in myself on the first at-bat,” Montero said, “instead of being aggressive. After that, I told myself, ‘You have to be more aggressive.’
“When a guy throws 89-88-87 with a good changeup and a good curveball, you’ve got to be aggressive. After the first at-bat, I got the double with a little help.”
Miller made it 3-0 with another sacrifice fly; this one went to deep left. Sano’s homer came later in the inning and trimmed the lead to 3-1. Montero answered with a 405-foot drive to center in the sixth.
“I didn’t think it was gone,” Montero said, “but I saw the outfielders going back, back, back. I was like, ‘All right, thank you.’”
SATURDAY: Seattle (LHP Mike Montgomery: 4-4, 3.20 ERA) at Minnesota (RHP Kyle Gibson: 8-8, 3.48), 4:10 p.m., Root Sports, 1030-AM, 710-AM