MINNEAPOLIS — To be fair, given the personnel, the experience level and set-up of the bullpen, you’d think it would happen more often. But then again in this stretch of baseball where the Mariners win about once every five games, they haven’t had many late leads to lose.
For the second straight game, the Mariners’ bullpen gave away a lead it should’ve been expected to protect against the Twins, somehow failing to get six outs without allowing five runs.
But thanks to some shaky Twins defense in the top of the 10th, the Mariners were able to give the bullpen another chance at success. This time left-hander Roenis Elias, who hadn’t been pitching all that well in his previous outings, shut the door on a 9-6 victory in 10 innings.
“You’re five outs away with a five-run lead, you think you are in pretty good shape,” manager Scott Servais said.
Dee Gordon led off the top of the 10th with a double that bounced over the wall off reliever Tyler Duffey. Shed Long work a walk and Dylan Moore moved the runners up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt.
With defense playing in on the grass for the play at the plate, Mallex Smith hit a soft ground ball to first. First baseman C.J. Cron fired to home immediately with Gordon running on contact.
But in his haste to get the tag down, catcher Mitch Garver didn’t catch the ball first, allowing Gordon to slide in safely.
“Going on contact, we’ve got to get that run right there,” Gordon said. “That’s my job. Out or safe, you have to try and score.”
Miguel Sano gave the Mariners two extra insurance runs, misplaying a ground ball off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion and throwing it into the Twins dugout.
For a rare change, the Mariners weren’t the team costing themselves outs, runs and wins with mistakes in the field.
With a three-run lead, Elias did what two other relievers couldn’t do before him — put up a scoreless inning. He worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th for his sixth save while the Mariners improved to 29-42.
The Mariners broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the eighth, scoring five runs in the frame, including rookie infielder Shed Long’s three-run homer.
It was Long’s first major-league home run. Always emotional when he plays, Long tried to hide his joy momentarily as he rounded first, but his grin grew into an electric smile. The first call-up, the first hit, the first homer, these are seminal moments in a player’s career. And players know far too many former teammates that never made it there.
“It felt amazing,” Long said. “Having Dee on the bases with me made it even better. He was more happy than I was. He was running around the bases yelling and screaming. It was just a great moment.”
Down 0-2 in the count on two pitches from veteran right-hander Blake Parker, Long fouled off a 92 mph fastball and then turned on a curveball. A home run didn’t seem like a possibility.
“I didn’t,” he said. “When I hit it, I started running hard out of the box. But Dee was yelling, ‘He got him! He got him!’ and I thought, ‘OK, maybe I did.’”
In the dugout, teammates mobbed him in celebration.
“I might have got a little too excited,” Gordon said. “But I’ve been working out with Shed for four years now. He’s like a little brother to me.”
Call it a stepback or a rebuild or just another Mariners season, there needs to be growth from all of the losing. Long wasn’t even expected to be a big-league factor this early in the season. He had never played above the Class AA level when he reported to Class AAA Tacoma to start the season. But injuries to Gordon and Moore brought Long to the big leagues earlier than expected.
Young right-hander Gerson Bautista got the start as an “opener” in front of Tommy Milone and gave a serviceable effort. Bautista worked a scoreless first inning, but then exited in the second inning with one out and runners on first and second.
Milone cleaned up the minor mess, striking out Sano and getting Byron Buxton to ground into a force-out to end the inning.
From there, Milone carved up his old team, allowing just one base runner over the next four innings and using his changeup with great success. His teammates gave him a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning on Daniel Vogelbach’s towering solo homer to deep right field off Jose Berrios.
“That was the recipe apparently,” Milone said. “It was working so why go with anything else.”
But in the seventh inning, Milone experienced Marwin Gonzalez’s torture of the Mariners. Gonzalez smashed a tying solo homer into the upper deck. That was Gonzalez’s 19th homer vs. Seattle in 94 career games.
The Mariners tried to get Milone through the eighth inning. But after getting the first out, he gave up a solo homer to Max Kepler and a single to Jorge Polanco to end his evening.
His replacement, Cory Gearrin, got just one out while giving up three hits and allowing three more runs to score. Veteran right-hander Anthony Bass had to come in and get the final out of the inning.
Milone was credited with six innings pitched, three runs allowed on four hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
Bass couldn’t hold the lead in the ninth. He gave up a single to Sano and served up a two-run homer to Buxton that forced extra innings.