Capps picks up save in debut, Twins beat M’s 5-3

Published 12:54 pm Saturday, July 31, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Matt Capps emerged from the Minnesota bullpen and jogged to the mound, bringing his sinker, his slider and a bunch of goose bumps with him.

He didn’t exactly ease into his Twins debut, but it sure was memorable.

Capps pitched a scoreless ninth inning for a save in his first appearance with Minnesota, preserving a 5-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Friday night.

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“You’re not human if you don’t have a few nerves going out there the first day coming into a clubhouse with a team that’s been as successful as this organization has been,” said Capps, acquired from the Washington Nationals the previous night. “For them to go out and get me the way they did, I wanted to come out and perform well.”

Capps gave up a two-out single to Chone Figgins before striking out Casey Kotchman, ending the game with a pump of his fist. Of his 94 career saves, this was his 11th against an AL team — and his first in a real pennant race. The Twins stayed within 1 1/2 games of the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire used his enhanced bullpen like a new toy, effectively playing the matchups by using Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares for two outs each and Matt Guerrier for four outs before turning to Capps for the ninth. The right-hander drew a loud cheer when he jogged to the mound while “The Final Countdown” by ballad band Europe blared over the speakers.

“That was fun,” Capps said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had an ovation quite like that.”

Jim Thome and Alexi Casilla homered in support of Scott Baker (9-9), who evened his record with some help from another last-place opponent the Twins have fattened up on lately. Franklin Gutierrez had two hits and an RBI for the Mariners, who lost their fifth straight and made two costly errors behind Doug Fister (3-7).

“We’ve got to take it in stride and keep our heads up and keep playing the game hard,” designated hitter Russell Branyan said. “This team, we could easily give up the way things have gone. But we continue to battle.”

Fister fell in an early hole when, with two outs in the second inning, Figgins didn’t field Michael Cuddyer’s right-at-him grounder cleanly. Figgins recovered, grabbed the ball and cocked his arm to throw, appearing to have time to get the out, but he inexplicably held it and pounded his glove in frustration.

On the next pitch, Thome hit a high fly that carried far enough to reach the left-field seats for his 577th homer, giving the Twins a 2-0 lead. That gave Thome 1,598 RBIs, pushing him past George Brett for sole possession of 32nd place.

“If we clean that inning up, that doesn’t take place and we might walk out of here with a victory,” Branyan said.

Third baseman Josh Wilson was the next culprit, bobbling a bouncer hit by Joe Mauer with two outs in the third that let J.J. Hardy score. Fister gave up five hits and one walk over five innings.

The Twins weren’t immune to sloppiness, when Denard Span was picked off first base and caught in a rundown with Hardy at third. Casilla followed with his first homer since Sept. 18, 2008, needing a replay review by the umpires to complete his jog around the bases that made it 5-0.

Baker was pulled with one out in the sixth after a two-run double by Wilson cut the lead to two, but this was another so-so start for the right-hander the Twins are counting on to improve in the second half. He walked four and allowed seven hits, striking out two.

Admitting he wasn’t sharp, Baker was happy to see Capps come through in the end.

“I don’t know why that won’t be a boost of energy for us,” he said.

NOTES: Span has been picked off six times this season, the most in the majors according to STATS LLC. … Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu rested rookie Justin Smoak, in a 2 for 36 slump, for a mental break. This was their 88th different lineup in 104 games this season. … Crain gave up a single to Figgins to start the seventh, snapping a string of 19 straight batters retired by the right-hander. Crain has not allowed in a run in his last 18 appearances since June 5, striking out 18 in 18 innings with eight hits and six walks. … The Twins have closed the home run gap at Target Field, now trailing their opponents 36-30. They’ve hit 63 on the road. … Mariners RH reliever Shawn Kelley, out for the last six weeks with elbow inflammation, threw a simulated game and will start a rehab assignment next week. … The Mariners held out 3B Jose Lopez (hamstring) and LF Milton Bradley (knee) from the lineup again. They’re expected to play this weekend.