SEATTLE -- It seemed like a pretty brutal assignment for the Twins' Pat Dean in his second Major League start, but baseball has an odd way of taking expectations and flipping them upside-down.Friday's task looked daunting from just about every angle. Dean, a 27-year-old left-hander who had been in the
SEATTLE -- It seemed like a pretty brutal assignment for the Twins' Pat Dean in his second Major League start, but baseball has an odd way of taking expectations and flipping them upside-down.
Friday's task looked daunting from just about every angle. Dean, a 27-year-old left-hander who had been in the Minor Leagues for seven years prior to his call-up earlier this season, had only started a big league game once, and it came six days earlier against the Blue Jays.
On Friday night, he had to take the ball for a visiting team with a 4-19 road record against the surging Mariners, who were in first place in the American League West. The crowd was out in force, 40,921 strong in Safeco Field to watch their former Cy Young Award-winning ace, Felix Hernandez, and then hang around for a postgame fireworks show.
Then Dean did his thing, and after seven relatively quick, mostly quiet innings, he had subdued the Mariners into a 7-2 loss and the Twins had their 13th victory of the year and maybe a pitcher they can rely on in the coming weeks.
For Dean, it was momentous occasion, one that ended with a beer and barbecue sauce shower, a souvenir ball and game tickets, and the biggest belt-notch of all: Major League victory No. 1.
"The Dean vs. the professor, I guess, or something," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "It was one of those games where we haven't been very good on the road, we're facing a guy of that caliber, we're hoping Pat could slow the game down and do what he's been known to do, which is just throw strikes and put the ball in play, and he actually struck out a few people tonight.
"It was a good outing for him."
It didn't start out that way. Dean gave up an opposite-field home run to the second batter he faced, Mariners right fielder Franklin Gutierrez. He retired the next seven batters after the long ball. Three of those were consecutive strikeouts.
"I talked to him after the first inning," Molitor said. "To give up a home run like that, then come back and get a couple of good hitters was a good sign. I think he was able to turn the page rather quickly."
After Norichika Aoki interrupted that little run of dominance with a two-out double in the third, Dean punched out Gutierrez to finish that frame, taking full advantage of the breathing room his offense had provided with a stunning five-run third inning against Hernandez.
His fastball hardly cracked 90. It hardly mattered.
"He did a really good job of moving the ball around, he was ahead in the count a lot, which really helped him, and when he needed to make a pitch, he made a pitch," Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki said.
Again, the Mariners threatened, and again, Dean responded with the moxie and mound presence of a guy who seemed like he'd been doing this forever. Case in point: when Robinson Cano led off the fourth inning with a triple and Dae-Ho Lee drove him in with a one-out broken-bat single two batters later.
A potentially dicey situation with a crowd just beginning to percolate was erased immediately by Dean. He got Kyle Seager on a lineout, struck out Chris Iannetta to end the inning, and then calmly retired the last nine batters he faced in three crisp perfect innings, striking out three more for a career-high of eight. Even after reaching 93 pitches after the sixth, he came out for the seventh and got Lee, Seager and Iannetta in order on five pitches.
"It definitely makes it fun to go out there and compete against a guy like [Felix]," Dean said. "And luckily we got to him, and I was able to keep the team in the game.
"It's all I could ask for."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.