The Twins capitalized on a couple of extra outs the Mariners gave them early, getting a 2-out dinger from Jim Thome in the 2nd after Michael Cuddyer reached on an error, then another run when JJ Hardy scored on what should have been the 3rd out of the 3rd. Alexi Casilla continued to play like Orlando Hudson, smacking a 2-run HR in the 5th.
The addition of Matt Capps to the bullpen paid immediate dividends. Scott Baker didn't exactly cruise through the first 5 innings, but he hadn't allowed a run, and his pitch count was in great shape. But when the 6th inning started double-single-walk-strikeout-double, Gardy gave Baker a quick hook at 86 pitches. He didn't have to bring in a rookie or a middling long reliever. He brought in Jesse Crain, usually a 7th or 8th inning guy, to put out the fire in the 6th. He, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier and Capps combined to complete the game with just 2 H allowed in 3.2 IP with 3 K.
As for Capps' debut: 2 quick outs, a baserunner, then finish the job. Kind of like what Jon Rauch often did.
Twins 4, Mariners 0
Just as they did against Zach Greinke on Monday, the Twins ambushed Seattle ace Felix Hernandez in the 1st inning. Just 12 pitches and 8 swings into the game, the Twins were ahead 3-0 thanks to a sequence of triple-single-triple-double from Casilla, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young and Thome with 1 out. Unlike Monday, Hernandez recovered, and the Twins were pretty much stymied the rest of the way.
That early outburst was plenty, though, because the Mariners are terrible at hitting, and Kevin Slowey was really on his game. He cruised through 8 scoreless innings, giving up just 3 H and 0 BB while striking out 5, including Ichiro 3 times. With his pitch count at 103 and a 4-run lead, I was disappointed to see him lifted for Mijares in the 9th. It's not that I don't believe in pitch counts, but I don't think there's a lot of evidence that 100 should be the cutoff. And I certainly think managers should be ready to extend them when someone is pitching as well as Slowey was. Especially when the score isn't terribly close.
Twins 5, Mariners 0
Francisco Liriano has found his groove, and it's a beautiful thing to see. For the 3rd straight game, he went 7 IP with 0 R allowed, this time with just 2 H, 2 BB and 11 K. And when the Mariners did put the ball in play, they beat it into the ground for 9 of 10 outs. Rauch and Guerrier joined in the fun, each pitching a perfect inning with 2 K to complete the 2-hitter with a team total of 15 K.
I was worried for a while that it would be for naught, as the Twins were kept off the board for 5 innings by nondescript LHP Luke French. He had allowed just 3 H heading into the 6th, but the Twins finally caught him the 3rd time through the order. Once again, Casilla keyed the rally, as 5 straight reached: single-double-IBB-double-single. The 2nd double came from Jason Kubel, a drive off the wall in deep right center. Interesting decision for a manager putting Cuddyer on to face him. He has a lot of trouble against lefties (.662 OPS), but kicks ass with the bases loaded (1.146 OPS). Much bigger sample against lefties, of course.
This concludes a string of 13 straight games against the four worst teams in the league. The Twins came through it awfully well, going 10-3 while outscoring their opponents 80-32 with 4 shutouts. Good teams have to clean up against bad teams, just as the Tigers and White Sox did in June. Next, the Twins get to see how they fare against the very best in Tampa. They head there on an 8-game winning streak and 13 games over .500, both season highs.