So close: Final out eludes Mariners

Final out eludes Mariners in loss

MINNEAPOLIS -- The area of greatest concern for the Mariners coming out of Spring Training was on an 11-for-11 roll two-thirds of the way through the ninth inning Tuesday night.

But the bullpen needed one more out to close the door on the Twins. It never came, and instead the Mariners dropped a gut-wrenching 6-5 decision before 23,755 at the Metrodome.

After right-handers Roy Corcoran and David Aardsma retired all nine batters they faced while protecting a one-run lead, right-handed closer Brandon Morrow was handed a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

He quickly retired the first two batters, striking out one and getting the other on a line drive to center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

Three consecutive walks loaded the bases and knocked out Morrow, and an infield hit off Miguel Batista scored one run. A Batista fastball that was supposed to be on the outside corner followed, but it moved more than the pitcher expected and came right down the middle. Alexi Casilla took advantage, rapping it into center field for a walk-off, two-run single.

And the worst kind of loss, even this early in the season, is tough to take.

Throughout the seven-week camp in Peoria, Ariz., a plethora of candidates competed for the closer job. None of them stepped up, so the Mariners changed course and anointed Morrow on the final day of camp.

Morrow started Spring Training competing for a spot in the rotation, but his health -- he has diabetes -- and lack of a sure-fire door-slammer to replace J.J. Putz led the Mariners to choose the pitcher who ranked second to Putz in saves last season with 10.

"It's a tough situation for him because he didn't have a lot of innings in Spring Training," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "We believe in him. He has good stuff and has a chance to be special. He got two quick outs, lost it and couldn't get it back. When I took him out, I told him he would be back out there."

Not a moment too soon.

"I want to get back out there as soon as possible," a demoralized Morrow said. "Hopefully it will be tomorrow. I felt good, but just lost it after the first two, obviously.

"Everything felt right. I don't know what to say. I felt good and was throwing the ball where I wanted against the first two batters. I fell behind the third guy, and just lost it."

Morrow threw 28 pitches to the five batters he faced, so his availability for Wednesday night is questionable. If he isn't available, who Wakamatsu would go to is anyone's guess. It could be Mark Lowe or Aardsma, who threw just nine pitches to record three outs in the eighth inning.

But in the big picture during a long season, Morrow will get the call more times than not in save situations.

"It's a process we have talked about," Wakamatsu said. "We have faith in him, and it's a long season. We have to stick with these guys. [Tuesday night] is a tough situation for him. The team played its tail off, and he really wanted to save that game.

"He just ran into command problems. Obviously it's a tough loss, but overall there were good things."

The ninth-inning rally deprived left-hander Erik Bedard of his first career victory against the Twins, who are still 5-0 against him. Third baseman Adrian Beltre drove in two runs -- one with a sacrifice fly and another with a single -- and left fielder Endy Chavez had three hits, scored two runs and drove in two. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt also dazzled by going 2-for-4, scoring a run, stealing a base and making a highlight-reel catch to rob Nick Punto of a hit in the seventh inning.

The Mariners built a four-run lead for Bedard after four innings, scoring runs in the first and third innings and two more in the fourth on Chavez's third single -- a two-run grounder into right field.

The gap was sliced to one run in the fifth inning, when the Twins turned three hits and a hit batter into three runs. A key pitch in the inning came during a 2-2 count to Michael Cuddyer with runners on second and third and two outs.

Cuddyer took the pitch, which was called a ball, and then delivered a two-run single into center field. Justin Morneau then became Bedard's eighth, and final, strikeout victim, and the game was handed over the bullpen.

Jim Street is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.