MINNEAPOLIS -- It's never a good thing to have Ichiro Suzuki standing at second base when the Mariners are on defense. But there he was, with one out in the ninth inning on Saturday afternoon, straddling the middle-of-the-diamond bag at the Metrodome. "If you are using that play," manager Jim Riggleman said, "you are in big trouble."
The Mariners were desperately trying to figure out a way to send their game against the Twins into extra innings. But not even an unusual defensive alignment could prevent a 7-6 loss in front of 36,316, who witnessed a Major League first. The Mariners were behind by five runs after two innings and then rallied for six runs in the sixth inning to go ahead by one. The lead lasted until the Twins tied it in the eighth, and so it came down to the ninth inning -- like so many others have for the Mariners this season. "For the past five weeks, wins have been like that and losses have been like that," Riggleman said. "Games have been coming down like that, and all too often we have come up short." It was "here they go again" when the Twins put runners on second and third bases with one out. Riggleman went to the mound with a grand plan. Before instructing right-handed reliever Miguel Batista to "pitch around" pinch-hitter Mike Lamb if necessary, the manager motioned for Ichiro to come in to prevent a groundball base hit. "When they first called me in, I thought they were calling me in to pitch," Ichiro said. "That [playing at second base] was a situation I didn't really fathom. In a situation like that in Japan, if they thought the batter would hit the ball to left field, I would be moved to left field. Or if the batter was more likely to hit the ball to center, they would put me there. "This was the first time for this to happen to me." It became an insignificant maneuver, as Lamb would not bite at two low-and-outside pitches from Batista, prompting an intentional walk. With the bases loaded, Ichiro returned to right field and Seattle stationed its infield at double-play depth. Brian Buscher then hit a soft line drive to left field, presumably setting up a close play at the plate. Jeremy Reed came in on the ball and caught it, but his throw to the plate was late and off-line, enabling Joe Mauer to slide in with the game-winning run. Reed lacks a bullet-like arm, but he still should have made the play closer. And he knew it. "I rushed it," he said of the throw. "The play was right in front of me. I got three fingers on the ball instead of two and was too quick in throwing it. Instead of making the adjustment and making sure I made a good throw, I rushed it. "I should have just let it happen, instead of trying to do too much. At least I would have had a chance. I didn't get anything on the throw." So the Twins pulled out their 69th win of the season and the Mariners absorbed their 76th loss. The loss went to left-handed reliever Cesar Jimenez, who was victimized in the ninth by a hard grounder that Mauer hit off third baseman Adrian Beltre's glove, and a bloop single into left field by Justin Morneau. "I made the pitches I wanted and where I wanted them," Jimenez said, shaking his head. "They are good hitters, and all you can do is try to make it as challenging for them as you can," Riggleman said. "That part of their lineup, whether you are right-handed or left-handed, they give you quality at-bats. They put the ball in play." The Mariners did a lot of that in the sixth inning, when they went on a five-hit binge against Twins starter Scott Baker, batted around for the fourth time this season and scored six runs to erase a five-run deficit. Rookie catcher Jeff Clement and Ichiro each drove in two runs, as the Mariners sent 10 batters to the plate. The uprising included run-scoring doubles from Yuniesky Betancourt and Beltre. The lead lasted until the eighth inning. Right-handed reliever Sean Green walked the leadoff batter and with one out, Jimenez surrendered a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Jason Kubel. Mariners starter Ryan Rowland-Smith retired the first two batters he faced in the game, but the next five batters reached on a hit or a walk as the Twins bolted to a two-run lead right off the bat. Mauer put Minnesota ahead with an opposite-field home run to left-center, which seemed to rattle the Mariners' Aussie lefty. He walked Morneau on four pitches and surrendered consecutive singles to Delmon Young and Randy Ruiz for another run. He wobbled a bit more in the second inning, surrendering three more runs to fall behind by five runs. But it could have been worse. Seattle got a break when Brandon Harris, trying to advance a base on a throw to third base, was called out at second base for the second out of the inning. That gave Rowland-Smith an escape hatch, and he eluded further damage by retiring Ruiz on a grounder to third. That seemed to relax the rookie left-hander, and he proceeded to retire 10 of the final 12 batters he faced before turning the one-run lead over to the bullpen. "I was rushing too much the first two innings and felt I let myself down," he said. "I knew I had a lot of pitches to go and I tried to get something positive out of it. I was able to keep us close and they got the runs back, which was good."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.