MINNEAPOLIS -- An errant eagle? No problem. Frigid temperatures? Whatever.But Twins third baseman Miguel Sano proved to be the one thing that got to Mariners starter James Paxton on Thursday in what turned into a 4-2 loss for Seattle in Minnesota's home opener at Target Field.Sano's two-run homer in the
MINNEAPOLIS -- An errant eagle? No problem. Frigid temperatures? Whatever.
But Twins third baseman Miguel Sano proved to be the one thing that got to Mariners starter James Paxton on Thursday in what turned into a 4-2 loss for Seattle in Minnesota's home opener at Target Field.
Sano's two-run homer in the sixth inning wiped out an otherwise sterling start by the man called "Big Maple," and it helped the Twins rally from a two-run deficit as Seattle dropped to 3-3 on the season.
Paxton proved to have nerves of steel in a bizarre pregame incident when a bald eagle released from center field during the Twins' pregame ceremonies veered away from its intended path to home plate and instead landed on Seattle's pitcher as he stood in left field during his warmups.
"It's not the first time I've seen a bald eagle, but it's the first time I've had one try to land on me. So that was interesting," Paxton said. "I wasn't going to run. I figured I'm not going to outrun an eagle, so we might as well just see what happens."
The eagle tried to land on Paxton's shoulder twice before finally realizing he wasn't the expected target and was recovered by its trainer at the conclusion of the national anthem.
"I guess the eagle knew I was Canadian, I don't know," Paxton said. "But it came for me."
Between providing an unexpected perch for the very big bird and dealing with 38-degree weather on a bone-chilling afternoon, Paxton had plenty of reasons to be distracted. Instead, the lanky lefty zeroed in on the business at hand and bounced back nicely from a rough season debut against the Indians last week.
Paxton allowed just four hits and two runs over five-plus innings with one walk and seven strikeouts in a 98-pitch outing, a sharp contrast to the six hits and six runs given up in his 4 2/3-inning effort against Cleveland when he walked four and struggled with his command throughout.
Paxton's performance served as welcome relief to Mariners manager Scott Servais, coming a day after Felix Hernandez got hit hard by the Giants in a 10-1 loss. Starting pitching figures to be a key question for Seattle all year, and Paxton was the Mariners' top starter last year in a 12-5, 2.98 ERA season marred only by a pair of disabled-list stints.
"Paxton threw really well," Servais said. "He just made a mistake to Sano late, but he threw the ball really well and it was nice to see him back on track again. His timing was much better today. You could tell right from the get-go. He was very focused and gave us a very good outing."
When Paxton is on, he's a No. 1-caliber starter and he showed that Thursday with a dominant performance. Paxton dialed it up a notch in the third inning, stranding runners at first and third and striking out three after a leadoff two-base error on right fielder Mitch Haniger raised a threat.
"I felt good today," Paxton said. "They worked some deep counts on me, fouling a lot of pitches off. I think they were just trying to get my pitch count up, and they did a good job of that. But the one pitch to Sano was the one that hurt. He's a very strong guy, and he got enough of it to put it out of here."
Said Sano: "To me, the pitcher made one mistake only. And when he made that one mistake, you had to go hit it. If we get the chance, we'll take it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Vogelbach keeps mashing: Rookie Daniel Vogelbach continues taking advantage of his opportunities coming off his monster Spring Training. The 25-year-old went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI single filling in for the injured Nelson Cruz at designated hitter.
Vogelbach is 4-for-7 with a pair of RBIs in Seattle's past two games, lifting his average to .333 after an 0-for-5 start. The stocky southpaw had the Mariners' two hardest-hit balls against the Twins, with his run-scoring single in the first having a 106.2-mph exit velocity and his third-inning single clocked at 109.1 mph.
"Vogey continues to have really good at-bats," Servais said. "A couple hard balls he hit and a good at-bat with the walk. We need it. We need him to keep swinging the bat until we get some other guys back. It's been a nice shot in the arm for us."
Missing the big hit: While the Mariners have put up pretty good offensive numbers in the first six games, timely hitting has been absent in back-to-back losses to the Giants and Twins in which they were a combined 3-for-29 with runners in scoring position.
That figure was 2-for-17 on Thursday, exemplified by a rough seventh inning in which Jean Segura walked and Robinson Cano singled to get runners on the corners with no outs in a 2-2 tie. Haniger then struck out, Kyle Seager rolled into a fielder's choice with Segura caught off third base and Vogelbach grounded out to end the threat.
"For me, the story of the game was the opportunities," Servais said. "We had tons of opportunities with guys on base today multiple times, guys on third. I don't know if guys are trying to do too much or whatever, but we didn't get 'em in. We probably should have had a wider gap than 2-0. Probably should have been 4, 5, maybe 6-0 at the time."
"I think Felix [Hernandez] probably would have ran away screaming. He was clear on that. Pax handled it fine. It was just something we weren't expecting today." -- Servais, on the pregame eagle incident
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With a first-pitch temperature of 38 degrees, this was the coldest Mariners game since April 5, 2013, against the White Sox in Chicago, when the thermometer read 34 degrees at first pitch.
Right-hander Mike Leake looks to build on his strong initial start when the Mariners face the Twins in Saturday's 11:10 a.m. PT game at Target Field. Leake allowed just five hits and two runs over seven innings while beating the Indians in his debut. He's 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA in two prior starts against Minnesota.
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Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.