SEATTLE - It is one of the ways baseball pulls you in: A team with only two hits all day can come to bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the chance to win a game.
It came down to that at Safeco Field on Saturday, with new Twins closer Brian Fuentes – a former Mariner – matched against Russell Branyan with a man on base, two out and a one-run deficit for Seattle.
“It’s the last critical part of the game,” Branyan said. “You’d love to come through in that situation …”
Fuentes wouldn’t allow it, using a three-pitch strikeout to preserve Minnesota’s 1-0 victory – a game that might well define the Mariners’ lost season.
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“We never really got anything going,” manager Daren Brown said. “Our guy pitched well, their guy pitched awfully well. There wasn’t a lot happening.”
Against right-hander Nick Blackburn, who had lost seven of his previous eight games and came in with a 6.49 earned-run average, the Mariners piled up two hits in the first inning, including a double by Branyan.
Over the final eight innings, two Mainers reached base on walks.
“We’ve done a good job competing against some tough teams the last few series,” catcher Josh Bard said, “but we’ve got to do better.
“You look at the Twins, it’s a different guy doing it every night. They do everything right. They’re a good club, and we’re trying to get there. But we have to do more.”
Bard was talking about Seattle’s year-long Achilles’ heel – the offense – because once again the Mariners’ pitching was superb.
Doug Fister, who has one victory since May 14, went seven solid innings and allowed only a second-inning run, pitching out of a jam to hold the Twins close. For a man with four wins in 22 starts this season, Fister deserved better a half-dozen times.
He deserved better Saturday.
“Blackburn threw four pitches where he wanted them, all day long,” Bard said. “Doug pitched a great game, too.”
Blackburn tried to finish the game but couldn’t, walking Chone Figgins with two out in the ninth.
That gave the Mariners one final chance to send a crowd of 29,892 home happy.
With Branyan coming up, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire went to his bullpen and Fuentes, whom Minnesota acquired on Friday.
The left-hander, whose 71 saves over the past two seasons leads the league, came in with a plan and worked it to perfection.
“The first pitch he threw me was a change-up and I read it ‘breaking ball,’ ” Branyan said. “I thought it would break over the plate, but it stayed inside and I couldn’t check my swing. If I do, it’s a different at-bat.
“His second pitch was a fastball over the outer half of the plate. I took it for a second strike.”
Down 0-2, Branyan stepped out, talked to himself, then got back in the batter’s box.
“That first checked swing made it a different at-bat, and down 0-2 I’m trying to be aggressive and protect the strike zone. Fuentes has made a living for a long time doing just what he did to me.”
What Fuentes did was throw a third pitch by Branyan, who swung, missed and then walked off the field as Seattle’s 79th loss of the season went into the record.
TODAY: Minnesota at Seattle, 1:05 p.m., FSN, 1030-AM, 1240-AM