SEATTLE -- It was a cruel lesson for a rookie making his fifth Major League start to lose this way -- but it was a lesson that Fernando Romero accepted nonetheless.
The Twins right-hander had matched Seattle ace James Paxton frame for frame, only to be betrayed by an infield shift in the sixth inning. The Mariners' Mitch Haniger drove in the go-ahead run on a ground ball hit to a spot the shift had just left open.
In Minnesota's 2-1 loss to Seattle on Friday night, that was the difference.
"It doesn't hurt," Romero said. "It's the manager's decision. If the second baseman was there, you'd take that. It's supposed to happen in the game. He gets all the credit. It just happened."
Romero (2-1) pitched well enough to win on most other nights -- a career-high seven innings, allowing five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. He also allowed both Mariners' runs.
That was too much on a night that Paxton (4-1) was in form. The Mariners' left-hander also went seven innings, allowing three hits and walked none. He struck out 11.
Paxton finished off a masterful May, recording his third win of the month. He retired 12 straight after giving up a leadoff single to James Dozier, and he struck out 9 of 11 batters at one point.
Paxton's lone indiscretion came on a solo homer by Minnesota's Max Kepler that tied the game at 1 in the fifth inning.
"It was a well-pitched game, both sides," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Just a small margin of error in a game like that, not a lot of opportunities to score. … But Romero did a nice job. He threw it over consistently, did a nice job. We just couldn't solve Paxton."
The Mariners' go-ahead rally came in the sixth inning as Paxton and Romero were locked in a tight duel. Seattle's Guillermo Heredia drew a two-out walk and went to second on a wild pitch.
Then the Twins played the infield shift on the right-handed Haniger, who slapped a single into right field in the spot vacated by second baseman James Beckham.
But there was no blaming this loss on the shift.
"I trust our guys," Minnesota catcher Mitch Garver said. "I trust our staff and I trust our advance scouting to put us in a position that we can make those plays. We'll take our chances. The hardest balls they're going to hit are going to be where we're positioning them."
Romero got off to a bumpy start, surrendering a leadoff single to Jean Segura, who stole second and scored on a two-out single by Nelson Cruz.
But from there, he found his cruise control, the same as Paxton.
"I thought Romero threw the ball exceptionally well for them," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "We didn't know much about him, being a young guy that just got to the big leagues here a short time ago. He had really good stuff."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Miguel Sano might have put some questions to bed over whether his healed hamstring could handle the field in the seventh inning. Seattle's Kyle Seager hit a Space Needle-high popup that Sano stretched to glove while nearly tripping over the pitching mound, seemingly surrounded by his mates in the Minnesota infield.
Kepler's no-doubt homer in the fifth served as a reminder of how hard he's hitting lefty pitchers in 2018. Kepler, who hits left-handed, is hitting .333 (14-for-42) this season with three homers and 11 RBIs. That's a massive turnaround from 2017, when he hit lefties at a .152 (19-for-125) clip.
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Kepler helped snuff out a Mariners rally in the fifth inning, as Seattle's Ryon Healy tried to go from first to third on a single by Ben Gamel. Kepler cut down Healy with a throw that Statcast™ registered at 92.2 mph.
Jake Odorizzi (3-2, 3.17) will start Saturday night against the Mariners at Safeco Field, with first pitch set for 9:10 p.m. CT. Odorizzi has been stellar of late, posting a 1.08 ERA in 16 2/3 innings over his last three starts with 20 strikeouts against five walks. But as good as he's been, Odorizzi earned only one win in that stretch. In his only start against the Mariners this year, he pitched six shutout innings in a no-decision on May 14.