SEATTLE (AP) — The last thing Seattle reliever Tom Wilhelmsen remembered hearing was to throw home if he was able to force a comebacker to the mound.
So when Minnesota’s Denard Span tapped back to the mound with the bases loaded and the Mariners trying to hold a late lead what did Wilhelmsen do?
“I had a brain (lapse) and a pretty important one,” Wilhelmsen said. “Cost us the ball game.”
Wilhelmsen’s throwing error was the catalyst to a three-run seventh inning for the Twins, capped by Joe Mauer’s two-out RBI single, and Minnesota rallied for a 3-2 win on Friday night, handing the Mariners their seventh straight loss.
Minnesota snapped a 25-inning scoreless streak with its three-run seventh and put to rest a few of the bad memories from Wednesday night’s no-hitter at the hands of Angels’ ace Jered Weaver.
Meanwhile, Seattle lost by one run for the fourth time in its past five games.
“We’ve gone through a lot this last week,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “Look at all these tight ballgames. They will be better and stronger for it and wiser for it.”
Seattle’s bullpen struggles ruined a strong start by lefty Jason Vargas, who threw 6 1-3 innings before giving way to Wilhelmsen with a 2-0 lead. And it quickly fell apart.
Vargas departed after giving up a one-out double to Chris Parmelee. Wilhelmsen entered and walked Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe to load the bases. Wilhelmsen looked as if he was going to get out of the inning when Span tapped back to the mound.
Wilhelmsen (1-1) grabbed the grounder with his bare hand and it appeared to throw him off. Instead of coming home for the force out, Wilhelmsen hesitated then rushed his throw to second, the ball tailing wide of the bag and almost out of Dustin Ackley’s reach. But everyone was safe thanks to the errant throw and Parmelee scored for the Twins’ first run since the eighth inning of their game Monday against the Angels.
“I think the fact that he was so surprised he caught it with the bare hand threw him off,” Wedge said.
Jamey Carroll followed with a grounder wide of first and the only play was a force out of Span at second, allowing Casilla to score the tying run. That was it for Wilhelmsen, who was showered with boos as he was replaced by Charlie Furbush to face Mauer. On a 3-1 pitch, Mauer grounded back up the middle. The bouncer glanced off Brendan Ryan’s stretched glove and trickled onto the outfield grass to score Plouffe.
“We needed that. We banged the ball around a lot. We didn’t come up with the timely hits like we wanted, but we took advantage of the one mistake they made which is nice to do,” Twins’ starter Carl Pavano said. “It’s a break that went our way that we haven’t seen in a while.”
Slugging rookie Jesus Montero started Seattle’s fifth-inning rally with a double off the wall in deep left-center field as the pitchers in the Mariners’ bullpen waved frantically for the ball to carry over the fence. It didn’t, but Montero was jogging home one pitch later when Kyle Seager sliced a double into the left-center field gap to give Seattle the lead.
After Justin Smoak flew out to center field, Mike Carp lined a double over Ryan Doumit’s head in right field to score Seager. Carroll was able to keep another run from scoring when his diving stop held Ryan to an infield single and Carp stopped at third. Dustin Ackley then flew out to end the inning.
But that was the only time Seattle got to Pavano, who was efficient in his six innings. Pavano (2-2) threw only 69 pitches and didn’t walk a batter in picking up his second victory of the year. He likely would have worked later in the game if not for the Twins rally in the seventh that had Pavano sitting for a lengthy period.
The decision to go to the bullpen for Minnesota worked perfectly. Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins rolled through the seventh and eighth innings. Matt Capps entered in the ninth, striking out Ichiro Suzuki on a split-finger pitch to start the inning, then retired the final two batters for his fifth save in as many chances.
Notes: Ackley was 1 for 3 in his first game as the Mariners leadoff hitter. Before Friday’s game, Wedge announced that veteran Chone Figgins was being benched … Twins manager Ron Gardenhire returned to Minnesota following the series against the Angels to attend the graduation of his daughter Tara from Southwest Minnesota State University. Gardenhire will rejoin the team on Monday.