Wong's 9th-inning heroics spoiled by Twins in extras

Second baseman hits go-ahead 9th-inning HR off bench before Minnesota walks it off in 10th

July 25th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kolten Wong was on his way to becoming the most unlikely hero in what’s been an incredibly challenging year, as the 10-year big leaguer ripped a two-out, go-ahead, pinch-hit, ninth-inning homer on Monday night in Minnesota.

But as has been the case dating back to a series last week in Seattle between these teams, the Twins’ bevy of lefty hitters lifted them ahead in the 10th inning to drop the Mariners back to .500 (50-50) after a 4-3 loss at Target Field.

After Wong went deep, Andrés Muñoz surrendered consecutive doubles that tied the game in the ninth -- just the fifth and sixth extra-base hits he’s given up all year -- then Paul Sewald gave up a bloop single to Carlos Correa in the 10th that scored automatic runner Donovan Solano from third after he advanced on a sacrifice bunt.

In between, Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez and Teoscar Hernández went down in order to strand automatic runner J.P. Crawford at second base in the top of the frame, positioning Minnesota for the walk-off.

“Our situational hitting, again, you're trying to get that first guy over to third,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “But in that situation, that's the middle of our lineup. Those guys are the guys that we lean on to come through.”

Muñoz has appeared in nine games this month, second most to only the 10 from Sewald and Justin Topa, but the flamethrowing righty had only pitched once since last Wednesday’s game, also a loss to Minnesota back in Seattle. Servais opted for Muñoz to face the Nos. 2-4 hitters -- pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, who grounded out, then Alex Kirilloff and Max Kepler, whose doubles were at 104.8 mph and 106.1 mph, respectively.

“He was our most rested guy in the bullpen tonight and I liked the spot he was in,” Servais said. “I like [Muñoz] against anybody. He just wasn't able to lock it down there, and obviously we didn’t get anything done in the 10th offensively.”

Kirilloff’s knock nearly went for the second out as it was scorched into and out of the glove of left fielder Taylor Trammell, who was racing for the ball at the warning track then collided with the wall. The Mariners had a similar play in the fifth, when Hernández leaped for a higher-angled ball at the right-field wall but came up short on an eventual triple from Trevor Larnach.

Both plays would’ve been remarkable had they been converted, yet instead, the hitter on each eventually scored.

“They’re the games that you want to be in,” Wong said. “But you obviously want to be winning a lot more than breaking even. It's hard to take right now. But the team, we believe in ourselves so much. We believe that we're a good team. It’s just, we're having some tough go's.”

Wong, who’s pinch-hit just five times this year, was on his way to what would’ve easily been his defining Mariners moment -- and had they hung on, it would’ve salvaged another standout start from Luis Castillo.

“La Piedra” retired each of his first 10 hitters and faced the minimum through the fourth inning. Then in the fifth, he gave up the triple that tied the game at 1 -- after Tom Murphy crushed a massive, 421-foot solo shot earlier -- then Christian Vázquez bested Castillo for an inside-out, down-the-line single against a 96.8 mph fastball on his hands. Both were with two outs.

The Mariners are now 5-7 when Castillo twirls a quality start and 9-12 overall behind the ace, who gave up just four hits and two walks while striking out nine.

“If I get frustrated, then I'm not going to have that positive mentality,” Castillo said through an interpreter. “It's part of the game. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don't.”

Beyond the rare hiccups from a bullpen that’s been well above-average since the All-Star break, some all-too-familiar situations were on display:

  • The 10th inning was a continuation of the Mariners’ struggles with runners in scoring position, as they went 0-for-11 in such sequences on Monday.
  • They fell to 12-19 in one-run games and 4-9 in extra innings.
  • After advancing to two games above .500 on Saturday for the first time since May 31, they’re back even for the 14th time since the start of June.

“Heck of an effort to come back late like that in the game,” Servais said. “Unfortunately, we didn't really do a whole lot early. A tough way to start the road trip.”