MINNEAPOLIS -- Mitch Garver picked an opportune time to connect on his first Major League homer.
The rookie backup catcher hit a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh inning after Miguel Sano tied the game with a two-run homer in the sixth to help lift the Twins to a 4-2 win over the Mariners in the Target Field opener on a chilly Thursday afternoon that saw a game-time temperature of 38 degrees.
"In a spot like that, that's one I'll never forget," Garver said. "I tried to get the ball in the air and give our team a chance in the late innings with our bullpen. That was something special. Nothing compares to hitting a home run in the big leagues. It has to be the best feeling in the world."
Garver, who had never homered in his previous 52 at-bats in the Majors, capitalized on a mistake from reliever Dan Altavilla, as he hung an 0-2 slider that Garver didn't miss. Garver crushed it, as it left his bat at 105.4 mph at a launch angle of 32 degrees, going a projected 409 feet, per Statcast™. Balls hit at similar exit velocities and launch angles go for hits 89 percent of the time.
"He picked a good time," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "He fell behind in the count, but the guy left one over the middle. I'm sure that was a load off his back to add one to the homer column."
For the third straight game, the Twins found themselves in an early hole, as the Mariners scored twice in the first against Kyle Gibson, but for the second straight game, they found a way to win despite being down 2-0 after the first inning. Sano made a throwing error to home that led to a run before Daniel Vogelbach smacked an RBI single into right.
Mariners lefty James Paxton, who dealt with a bald eagle landing on his non-pitching shoulder during the national anthem, was sharp early before serving up the two-run homer to Sano in the sixth that knocked him from the game. Paxton went five-plus innings, surrendering two runs on four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts.
"The one pitch to Sano was the one that hurt today," Paxton said. "He hit a pretty good pitch. It wasn't a very good two-strike pitch, but it was down in the zone, a curveball he put a good swing on."
Gibson lasted 4 1/3 innings, surrendering two runs (one earned) on seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts. But the new-look bullpen continued the strong start to the season, combining to toss 4 2/3 scoreless innings, including the first save of the season from Fernando Rodney. Rodney, who shot an imaginary arrow at the Target bullseye in center field after completing the save, received an insurance run on a solo homer from Eddie Rosario in the eighth off reliever Nick Vincent.
"I saw the crowd stand up and receive me," said Rodney, who uses Lil Jon's "Live the Night" as his entrance music. "I tried to have a quick inning but walked the first batter. I tried to keep my fastball down. If they hit it, fine."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Sano doubter: Paxton looked dominant against the Twins, but they were able to run his pitch count up to 88 leading into the sixth inning. Joe Mauer sparked the rally with a leadoff single before Sano jumped on a 1-2 curveball from Paxton to tie the game. The homer had an exit velocity of 104.3 mph and a high launch angle of 33 degrees, traveling a projected 386 feet, per Statcast™.
"To me, the pitcher made one mistake only," Sano said. "And when he made that one mistake, you had to go hit it. If we get the chance, we'll take it. If they make a mistake, they'll pay."
Pressly, Duke escape jam: Seattle threatened in the seventh after Jean Segura walked and Robinson Cano dropped in a bloop single against reliever Thomas Pressly to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Pressly was able to strike out Mitch Haniger before turning it over to Zach Duke, who got Kyle Seager and Vogelbach to ground out to escape the jam.
"[Pressly] hung in there and made some good pitches to get the strikeout," Molitor said. "And Zach is probably my best guy, along with Trevor Hildenberger, on getting ground balls. He got a couple of them. We took a sure out at home, and then Duke got the next guy."
"Wow. That's the first time I've ever seen that. When I saw that, I said, 'Wow. That's baseball. A lot of things happen.'" -- Rodney, on seeing an eagle land on Paxton's shoulder during the national anthem
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Sano's two-run homer in the sixth was the 10th of the year for the Twins, but the first with men on base, as they had nine straight solo shots to open the year and 12 straight going back to last season. The Twins have now hit 12 homers through their first six games, breaking the club record of 10 homers through six games set in 2009.
"I like to think we're going to compete with long balls," Molitor said. "We've leaned on them a little bit in terms of runs scored, but that's OK. Those things go in cycles. Today, all four runs were home run-related, but we can score a lot of different ways."
After an off-day on Friday, right-hander Jose Berrios will take the mound for the Twins against the Mariners on Saturday at 1:10 p.m. CT. Berrios is coming off the best start of his career, as he threw his first career shutout against the Orioles on Sunday. Eduardo Escobar and Logan Morrison were held out of the lineup on Thursday, but they are expected to return on Saturday.
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