We’ve got a thriller going, with the Mariners clinging to a 4-3 lead as we head to the ninth. An outstanding job by Roy Corcoran to go six-up, six-down on 22 pitches in the sixth and seventh — aided by an outstanding dive from Yuniesky Betancourt to rob Nick Punto of a hit.
David Aardsma got three quick outs in the eighth and Brandon Morrow is now warming up. Which one will we see? The guy from spring training, or the closer from 2008? So far, spring training does not seem to be having all that much of an impact. Corcoran had an awful spring but looked real good here. Same with Erik Bedard.
The M’s offense checked out a while ago, so this should come down to Morrow.
I spoke to Russell Branyan pre-game about those two bats he broke in the opener. Branyan uses both maple and ash bats, though it was the maple ones — noted for shattering the past few years — he broke against the Twins. One of the bat shards smacked catcher Mike Redmond in the mask, while another one, later in the game, flew roughly 75 feet into the stands. A fan caught that one and nobody was hurt.
“I didn’t know where the heck it was until the guy caught it,” Branyan said. “Somebody told me the guy caught it. I was just glad everyone was OK. I don’t think I could throw a bat that far.”
Then, with a wink, he quipped: “I guess I’m going to have to go back to using ash.”
Kenji Johjima is behind the plate to catch Erik Bedard tonight. That hasn’t happened in a reuglar season game since way back last May. The Mariners have brought catching consultant Roger Hansen with them to begin the season. Last year, it took a month before Hansen made one of his regular visits to the club.
“When all hell broke loose!” he said earlier today.
The team didn’t want to wait for that to happen this time. And so, Hansen will be up with the squad through until after the home opener next Tuesday. His primary job is to make sure Johjima keeps a firm line of communication with the pitching staff. That part of things broke down last April and was never entirely fixed.
“He’s showing that leadership on the field,” Hansen said of Johjima. “He’s showing that emotion. That’s what we need from him.”
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said he saw a different Johjima at the World Baseball Classic. Wakamatsu feels Johjima has a vibrant, outgoing personality and wants him to display more of that with the Mariners.
“You might see it in visits,” he said. “You might see it in his body language, whether he pumps his fist or the way he goes to the mound. His presence behind the plate.”
6:45 p.m.: That was a tough break for Erik Bedard in a three-run fifth inning by the Twins that’s cut Seattle’s lead to 4-3. Bedard nearly escaped the inning with only one run allowed when he put a 2-2 fastball right down the middle for a taking Michael Cuddyer. It looked like a third strike, but plate umpire Chuck Meriwether (who blew a call at first base in Seattle’s favor last night) ruled the pitch a ball. Cuddyer later hit a two-run single with the count full. A leadoff triple by Carlos Gomez, followed one out later by a hit batsman and then a single by Denard Span had gotten the Twins on the board.
Bedard is probably done for the night, striking out Justin Morneau — victim No. 8 — to end the fifth.
So, the M’s still ahead. That extra base taken by Yunieksy Betancourt back in the fourth now looms large. Nick Blackburn is now out of the game for the Twins.
6:13 p.m.: What’s that guy’s name again? Ichiro Pip? Endy Chavez just notched his third single of the game in the fourth inning to bring home a pair and make it 4-0 for the Mariners and a solid-looking Erik Bedard.
Some good, aggressive baserunning by Yuniesky Betancourt set up the second of those runs. Wladimir Balentien had singled with two out, then Betancourt laced a ball to center that hung up in the air long enough for the lead runner to take third. As the throw came in, an alert Betancourt sped off towards second and just beat the tag with a good slide.
That put two in scoring position for Chavez, subbing for Ichiro while he’s on the DL.
5:59 p.m.: It’s now 2-0 for the Mariners after Adrian Beltre came up with a two-out single to center in the third, bringing Endy Chavez home to score. Chavez had notched his second single of the night with one out, then stole the first base of the season by a Mariner. But Franklin Gutierrez failed to advance him, grounding out to the left side. Ken Griffey Jr. then walked and Beltre came through for his second RBI.
Russell Branyan had a chance to add to the damage, but struck out.
5:48 p.m.:<strong>Erik Bedard is on tonight. He’s throwing inside and really keeping the Twins hitters off balance so far. That’s three strikeouts in two innings by Bedard, who has retired six in a row after yielding a leadoff single to Denard Span on a high chopper.
The Mariners had Nick Blackburn in pitch-count trouble in the first inning. They spoiled a good half-dozen two-strike pitches in the first two at-bats alone. But Blackburn, after a 23-pitch first inning, needed just 13 to get through the second and only one pitch to retire Yuniesky Betancourt to start the third.
Still 1-0 for the M’s.
5:26 p.m.: Endy Chavez led the game off with a single to right (on the pitch in the photo opposite page) and Franklin Gutierrez followed with an opposite field double to right. Ken Griffey Jr. then failed to execute, popping out to the second baseman. That helped Nick Blackburn escape a jam with less damage than it looked like he’d suffer. Adrian Beltre got the run home on a sac fly to left, but Blackburn retired Russell Branyan on a groundout to first base to end the inning.
So, it’s 1-0 for the M’s, but looked like it would be more.
5:11 p.m.: Erik Bedard takes the mound tonight against right hander Nick Blackburn, who won 11 games as a rookie last season. Delmon Young is in the Twins’ lineup tonight.
Endy Chavez LF
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Ken Griffey Jr. DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
Russell Branyan 1B
Jose Lopez 2B
Kenji Johjima C
Wladimir Balentien RF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
LHP Erik Bedard
Denard Span RF
Alexi Casilla 2B
Michael Cuddyer DH
Justin Morneau 1B
Joe Crede 3B
Delmon Young LF
Carlos Gomez CF
Jose Morales C
Nick Punto SS
RHP Nick Blackburn