Hunter's heroics at plate win it for Twins

Hunter's heroics at plate win it for Twins

SEATTLE -- The Twins have been known for their unique team catchphrases.

Last year, it was the team tapping their noses and saying "Smell 'em," in reference to their RBIs that developed into the "it" phrase in the Twin Cities.

But the saying the club found to help boost itself over the past two games just might not have the same appeal.

After losing six of their first seven games of the road trip, manager Ron Gardenhire said his club was trying anything to get things turned around. Still, even he was a bit surprised by the new phrase resonating throughout the dugout on Wednesday: "We stink."

"They were trying a little reverse psychology," Gardenhire said. "Sometimes reverse psychology works. And today, it did."

It was Torii Hunter who got the phrase started for the club and it was Hunter that helped the turn Wednesday's game into a dramatic victory. He provided two clutch hits in the final two innings, including a grand slam in the ninth inning, to boost the Twins to a 6-1 win over the Mariners.

The grand slam came after right-hander Sean Green loaded the bases with two outs by intentionally walking Joe Mauer. Hunter then came to the plate and belted a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall.

It was Hunter's third grand slam this season and the ninth grand slam of his career, placing him second on the Twins' all-time list behind Harmon Killebrew, who has 10.

"That's pretty impressive," Hunter said. "I've got the baseball. I'm just happy to be second, but I'd like to be first."

It was just the inning before that Hunter had delivered an RBI single to break up a 1-1 game in a very similar situation. Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn intentionally walked Mauer to load the bases in the eighth before reliever Brandon Morrow was brought in to face Hunter. And the center fielder made them pay for that decision, hitting the first pitch from Morrow into right field, scoring Alexi Casilla from third base for the go-ahead run.

But while one run was big, the effect of the grand slam was about more than just giving the Twins a cushion.

Closer Joe Nathan was warming up in the bullpen when Hunter's ball came right to him. And while it erased a chance for Nathan to pick up a save, it did something that Nathan felt was even more important.

"We had a lot of chances to blow this game open and we missed some of those chances," Nathan said. "We still felt confident that we had chance to win it at the end. But hopefully, Torii's homer takes some pressure off the guys swinging the bat."

Those missed chances earlier in the game had appeared as if they might be costly. Despite having a 1-0 lead, thanks to a solo home run by Rondell White in the fifth inning, the Twins saw it disappear one inning later.

Scott Baker gave up a solo home run to Raul Ibanez with one out in the bottom of the sixth to knot the game at 1. Still, Baker was able to overcome some early struggles and work himself out of jams to limit the Mariners to just the one run on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings.

"I was fighting some mechanical issues toward the beginning," Baker said. "I had to decide just to let it fly and just not worry about that stuff. Once I was able to do that, I got in a little groove and everything took care of itself."

Wednesday's win brought the club's overall record to .500 (60-60) and gave the Twins their first series victory since July 30-Aug. 1, when they took two of three from the Royals.

Winning the final two games of a self-described "rough" roadtrip certainly gave the Twins a boost heading home for the start of a six-game homestand.

"It's been a really hard road trip, a long road trip, a tough road trip where not many things have gone our way," Gardenhire said. "But to come into Seattle and play against the team that is leading the Wild Card and, after a frustrating first game, to come back to win the final two days -- that's big."

The wins were helpful, but they didn't negate all of the problems the team found on this road trip. In fact, Wednesday's victory even created some new ones.

Shortstop Jason Bartlett left Wednesday's game in the sixth inning after straining his left hamstring while running out an infield single. It's the type of injury that Gardenhire feels likely will require a stint on the disabled list, although Bartlett said it won't be known until they see how he feels on Thursday.

It's yet another costly injury at an inopportune time for the club. Bartlett's injury comes just as the shortstop had started to get on a roll, hitting safely in 19 of his last 24 games.

And with the team still trailing in the division by 6 1/2 games with only 42 games remaining, the club knows that it will take much more than just two victories to label this the start of a turnaround.

"We haven't done anything," Nathan said. "Winning this series is great and all, but I don't even know if we can call this a beginning. We've got a lot to do before we can say it's a beginning. We've got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it."

For now, though, the team is happy to head home on a positive note and seems pretty content about living up to its new catchprase.

"We've been stinking for two days and it's pretty exciting," Hunter said with a laugh.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.