MINNEAPOLIS — This surely was not the type of birthday blast that Vin Mazzaro appreciated.
Mazzaro, on his first relief pitch of the game, gave up a grand slam to Minnesota’s Rene Tosoni on Tuesday night and the Twins defeated the Royals, 7-4, at Target Field. The bases-loaded homer came on Mazzaro’s 25th birthday.
No way to celebrate your birthday.
“No, definitely not,” Mazzaro said.
The Twins could celebrate a small success. The victory kept them from losing for the 100th time this season, something they’d done just once previously in 51 years of their Minnesota existence. The Royals lost for just the fourth time in their last 15 games.
The two teams will end the season on Wednesday night.
This game began with a pitching rematch from June 2, when Twins right-hander Anthony Swarzak beat Sean O’Sullivan and the Royals, 8-2. That happened to be O’Sullivan’s last Major League start before he was placed on the disabled list with a sore right biceps. He later was optioned to Triple-A Omaha where he pitched the rest of the summer.
In his Major League return, O’Sullivan trailed, 3-2, when the Twins loaded the bases with none out in the sixth inning. Danny Valencia, Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe each singled.
That prompted Royals manager Ned Yost to pull O’Sullivan in favor of another right-hander up from Triple-A Omaha, Mazzaro. He had pitched a perfect inning at Chicago in his first outing since rejoining the Royals, impressing Yost.
“We thought we’d bring Vinny in with a good sinker, good slider. We were willing to concede one run there and hopefully try to get a double play,” Yost said. “They set up down-and-away and the ball just kind of came back middle-in and he put a good swing on it.”
Facing a none-out, bases-jammed situation was a bit out of Mazzaro’s usual realm. He’s been primarily a starter throughout his professional career.
“This is the first time I ever really came in to a situation like that and, yeah, it’s different. But you try to keep the same mentality as a starter and attack the zone,” Mazzaro said. “Unfortunately, he came up and jumped the first pitch and got good wood on it.”
Mazzaro’s first pitch was slammed high over the right-field wall by Tosoni — giving the 34,228 fans a chance to salute the first grand slam belted at Target Field by a Twins batter in the stadium’s two-year existence. The 411-foot homer gave the Twins a 7-2 lead.
“It feels good. It’s my first career grand slam,” Tosoni said. “That situation with the bases loaded, you don’t want to miss the fastball if it’s given to you, and so I was just looking for something over the plate to drive to the outfield.”
The victimized Mazzaro recovered to get three straight outs and also worked scoreless seventh and eighth innings. But the Royals were in a deep hole.
The Royals came up with 14 hits for the second straight night but, unlike in their 7-3 victory in the series opener, they couldn’t connect often enough at the right times.
Johnny Giavotella had a triple and two doubles and is 8-for-15 in his last four games. Two hits each were recorded by Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar.
They couldn’t match the Twins who, in addition to Tosoni’s slam, got a home run from September sensation Parmelee, who had four homers and a .351 average since his callup, plus back-to-back triples from Denard Span and Ben Revere.
The latter hits came against O’Sullivan, who did well enough to suit Yost in his five-plus innings.
“He kept his pitch count down, he did a nice job. I was hoping he’d get us through the sixth with the lead or close to it,” Yost said. “The score was 3-2 when he left.”
O’Sullivan succeeded in keeping his pitch count down to 68.
“My rhythm really felt weird tonight,” O’Sullivan said. “I was really struggling to find a fastball release point — something that usually doesn’t happen. But, with the feeling I had, I just tried to throw as many strikes as I could, keep my pitch count down and pitch to contact. I felt like I did that pretty well in the first four innings.”
Both O’Sullivan and Mazzaro figure to be in the pitching picture again next spring. This year, Mazzaro beat out O’Sullivan for the fifth starting job, but lost it when he had subpar preparatory starts at Triple-A. So, O’Sullivan began the season with the Royals as a starter.
Mazzaro is also being considered as a possible reliever — a job, by the way, that has not been kind to Royals on their birthdays this season.
On Aug. 8 at Tampa Bay, on the occasion of his 26th birthday, Blake Wood relieved in the ninth inning and his first pitch was belted out of the park to give the Rays a 2-1 walk-off victory.
Maybe they forgot to blow out the candles and make a wish.