By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners knew going into this season that they would be a delight and a fright with their young players.
Friday night became an all-inclusive experience in a 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field.
Moments after the Mariners pulled off a home run-saving catch by center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and a perfectly called pitchout to thwart a squeeze bunt, a misplayed routine fly ball beat them.
Wladimir Balentien broke the wrong way on Matt Tolbert’s fly to left field and the ball bounced off his glove for a run-scoring error, allowing the Twins to break a 1-1 tie in the 10th inning.
Manager Don Wakamatsu didn’t soft-pedal the mistake by his 24-year-old outfielder, but he also was quick to say this is no time to give up on Balentien. Part of the Mariners’ mission at this point in the season is to see not only how their young players handle tough situations, but how they bounce back from failure.
“As soon as that ball was hit, he took a bad route to it,” Wakamatsu said. “At some point with a guy like Wladi, you’re trying to find out what you really have. We have to see what he can do out there. Those are things he needs to work on, a play like that in a tight situation.”
It wasn’t Balentien’s first adventure.
The first batter of the 10th, Joe Mauer, sliced a ball to deep left that twisted away from Balentien. He got to it but whiffed with his glove as the ball hit the bottom of the wall.
Mauer cruised into second with a double, and some entertaining baseball broke out.
Mark Lowe intentionally walked Justin Morneau to set up a force out, but Jason Kubel launched a drive to deep center field that had every appearance of a three-run homer.
It would have been without Gutierrez, who made a leaping backhand catch, pulling the ball back from beyond the fence.
“Phenomenal,” Wakamatsu said. “His play in center field is as good as anybody in the major leagues. This guy amazes me and saves a lot of runs for us.”
So did Wakamatsu in the next at-bat.
With Tolbert batting, the Twins called for a squeeze bunt. Wakamatsu called a pitchout and the Mariners caught Mauer between third and home for the second out.
Tolbert then launched a fly to left that appeared to have ended the threat. Balentien, however, took a step in when the ball was hit, and even though he recovered and got back to it, the ball bounced off his outstretched glove for an error. Morneau scored.
It was a night of spoilage on several fronts for the Mariners.
Ichiro Suzuki’s team-record hitting streak ended at 27 games when he flied out, walked, grounded out twice and struck out to end the game. It was the Mariners’ 26th one-run game — and their 12th one-run loss — among the 55 they have played, and it ended their chance for a three-game winning to win three straight for the first time since April 25.
Instead, all the Mariners were left to think about was Mike Sweeney’s second-inning home run and a solid pitching performance from Felix Hernandez against Twins starter Francisco Liriano.
Hernandez held the Twins to six hits in seven innings, allowing a run in the third when Minnesota didn’t get a ball out of the infield. Two carbon-copy infield singles to the hole between third and shortstop, a sacrifice bunt and Morneau’s sacrifice fly scored the run.
Sean White pitched a scoreless eighth, David Aardsma did the same in the ninth and Lowe did little to deserve his fate in the 10th.
“It was one of the better-pitched games from both sides I’ve seen in a long time,” Wakamatsu said. “Liriano pitched well and their bullpen pitched well. Felix was outstanding; I thought his stuff was maybe as good as I’ve seen.
“With Lowe at the end, the error to left cost him. That’s a game that really shouldn’t have gone that far. We left four on base (in scoring position) and when they’re throwing guys like that at you, you have to capitalize when you have the opportunities.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com\marinersblog