By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Sean White arrived at the ballpark Sunday morning realizing he’d have a little more important role in the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen against the Minnesota Twins.
Closer David Aardsma wasn’t available after having pitched a lot of innings in recent days, so the relief pitching pecking order needed to change — Mark Lowe would step up into the closer role, White into eighth-inning setup, etc.
At least, that’s the plan manager Don Wakamatsu laid out to reporters Sunday morning. And it’s what White assumed would happen if there was a close game to finish.
By the end of another of the Mariners’ ultra-tight games, this one a 4-2 victory over the Twins at Safeco Field, it was White on the mound recording a save for the first time in his major league career.
What happened to the White-then-Lowe finishing kick?
Wakamatsu and pitching coach Rick Adair knew the damage that the Twins’ left-handed-laden lineup could administer, especially when Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are at the plate.
“We knew before the game this is how we wanted to go,” Wakamatsu said. “Rick and I talked and we knew then that it probably would come down to those guys in the ninth.”
Left-hander Garrett Olson had shut down the Mauer, Morneau and left-handed threat Jason Kubel in the seventh inning, and Wakamatsu knew the Mariners probably would face those three again in the ninth.
So he sent Lowe out for a scoreless eighth inning and figured White, with a sinker that has been tough against left-handers, would be his best hope in the ninth.
White made it work, although a leadoff single by Denard Span made him earn it.
He struck out Mauer on a sinker and got Morneau to fly out to left field before walking Joe Crede.
Kubel then hit a fly to left that ended the Mariners’ fourth victory in five games and White’s first save of any kind in quite a while.
“I think I had one in spring training once,” he said.
OK, so if Wakamatsu realized before the game that White would be his closer, when did White know?
“When they got Lowe up to warm up in the seventh,” he said.
White said his adrenaline level didn’t feel any different than if he was pitching any other inning, although the stadium radar gun caught one fastball at 97 mph.
“I felt really calm,” he said. “I felt the same I’d been feeling in every outing.”
White is neither a man of numerous words nor emotions detected by the naked eye, which not only made him good for the ninth inning but also the postgame beer shower administered by teammates.
What was that like?
“Cold,” he said.
Another day of quality pitching — Erik Bedard gave up four hits and two runs in five innings, and Miguel Batista, Olson, Lowe and White finished with one scoreless inning each — was plenty for a comparative offensive explosion by the Mariners.
After they’d scored six runs total in the previous three games, they had four by the sixth inning, three on home runs.
Russell Branyan clubbed his 13th this season over the center-field fence in the first inning and Jose Lopez hit an RBI double in the third for a 2-0 lead.
After the Twins scored twice in the top of the fifth, the Mariners turned powerful in the bottom of the inning to go back ahead. Lopez led off with a homer and, three batters later, Jamie Burke homered to left. Burke had joined the team hours earlier, having been promoted from Class AAA Tacoma.
With Bedard done because of a high pitch count — aided by plate umpire C.B. Bucknor’s floating strike zone — it was the bullpen’s lead to have and hold, which they did.
A huge benefit for the future, Wakamatsu said, is that White now has ninth-inning experience.
“To be able to give certain guys a day (off) and accomplish this is huge,” Wakamatsu said. “The next time I bring him in won’t be the first time.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com\marinersblog