Sometime during a fourth inning in which the Minnesota Twins sent 13 batters to the plate, their confidence really started to soar.
Viral video star C.J. Cron and Byron Buxton homered in an error-fueled outburst that included seven hits and 11 baserunners, sending Minnesota past the Seattle Mariners 11-6 on Thursday night for its third straight victory and eighth in 11 games.
“There’s a contagious, positive energy that goes on” in an inning like that, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “When you step to the plate, you’re probably truly believing that you’re going to get on base. I think it’s something that happens when you have a good group. When you have a good offensive group, you have the opportunity to do that, whether it’s a few batters or 13. That good energy is tangible and I think it’s something that’s very real.”
While starting pitcher Michael Pineda (3-3) was the biggest beneficiary of that energy in his return to Seattle, Cron was definitely happy to be at the heart of the Twins’ win with a 4-for-5 effort a day after making an embarrassing error in a win against the Angels that went viral and had his teammates grinding on him all day.
“You have to poke fun at people,” Cron said. “It keeps the clubhouse loose. It keeps us having fun, more importantly. In order to win games, you have to have that team camaraderie, and I think we have a really good group of guys in here.”
That group started with Pineda on Thursday night.
The former Mariners right-hander struck out six with no walks and scattered five hits over seven innings, his longest outing of the season.
“He went deep, he threw strikes, he had that good slider we’ve talked about,” Baldelli said. “And truthfully, I think he had good life on his fastball. He commanded the ball very well. It was a great start.”
Pineda was hit hard occasionally, giving up three solo home runs, but had few concerns once that fourth inning got rolling with Cron’s mammoth two-run homer to left field that was four rows from leaving the ballpark to make it 4-1. Cron’s portion of the homer barrage helped the Twins reach 11 straight games with a home run — their longest streak in two years. They now have 80, third in the majors, and they’ve hit multiple homers in 21 of 42 games.
Leading 2-1 after solo home runs from Jason Castro and Max Kepler in the third against starter Erik Swanson (1-5), Minnesota put together its biggest inning of the season in the fourth.
Marwin Gonzalez followed Cron’s homer with a single, and Miguel Sano’s double put runners at second and third.
Castro then grounded to first baseman Edwin Encarnacion behind the bag. Instead of stepping on the base, Encarnacion made a quick, flat-footed throw home trying to get Gonzalez, but was off the mark and the error made it 5-1.
Buxton followed with a three-run homer for an 8-1 margin, ending Swanson’s night after he gave up nine hits in three-plus innings.
Parker Markel hit Kepler with a pitch, then gave up a single to Jorge Polanco before the Mariners finally got the first out of the inning by nabbing Polanco as he tried to turn a poor relay throw from the outfield into another base.
Markel struck out Jonathan Schoop for the second out and should have been out of the inning when Cron hit a soft fly to center field. But Mallex Smith, recalled Thursday from Triple-A Tacoma, dropped the ball for Seattle’s league-leading 49th error. Kepler scored to make it 9-1.
“Once we had those runs, Big Mike did nothing but shove,” Cron said.
All of Seattle’s runs came on homers. Smith hit a solo shot in the second, and Ryon Healy and J.P. Crawford connected for back-to-back solo drives in the fifth. It was the first home run with the Mariners for Crawford, one of the team’s top prospects.
Daniel Vogelbach added a three-run homer in the eighth off reliever Tyler Duffey. The Mariners have scored 131 of their 246 runs, 53%, on their league-leading 87 home runs. But the errors — the Mariners lead the league with 49 — did them in again.
“We gave them six outs in that inning, and that really turned the game,” manager Scott Servais said. “You can’t give a team like that that many free outs.”
For the first time since signing with Minnesota, slugger Nelson Cruz made his return to T-Mobile Park to the delight of the Mariners, who miss the presence of their ebullient former teammate. Cruz did not play because of a recent wrist injury, but is expected in the lineup for the remaining three games of the series, with left-handed pitchers scheduled for Seattle. “I hope he’s not in our nap room,” Servais joked. “I might have to stop in there. He might be in there for all we know.”
Baldelli said he sees why Cruz was such a favorite in Seattle: “He gets the clubhouse in a lot of ways to come together very, very well. It takes a special guy to do that.”
Twins: LHP Martin Perez (5-1, 3.11 ERA) returns to the mound after his first loss of the season.
Mariners: LHP Marco Gonzales (5-2, 3.18 ERA) looks to halt a two-game skid.
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