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May 4, 2009 at 10:36 PM

No miracle tonight* for Mariners

That asterisk refers to Yuniesky Betancourt’s ninth-inning walk, his first this year in 97 plate appearances. That would qualify as a minor miracle, I suppose.
But after executing improbable walk-off wins in two of the last three games, Seattle’s ninth-inning rally fell short. I’ve got to admit, when the Mariners put runners on first and second with two outs against Frank Francisco in the ninth, I thought Ichiro was going to get at least one of them home. That’s what they do, right? But Ichiro hit a harmless fly to center, and the Mariners had lost, 6-5.
Of course, a lot of the post-game buzz was about the controversial call on Kenji Johjima after shortstop Elvis Andrus made a spectacular diving stop, and threw him out from his knees. My naked eye told me he was out; on the replay, it looked like he was safe, but it was awfully hard for me to tell.
“I thought he was safe. Bottom line,” M’s manager Don Wakamatsu said. “It’s tough — close call, ninth inning, emotions are going. I went out and told him I thought he was safe.”
First-base umpire Paul Emmel didn’t change the call, however. Funny how that happens. I’ll say one thing about that play: I can see why the Rangers were compelled to move Michael Young to third base to make room for Andrus, who is just 20 years old. That was a play not many shortstops make.
Wakamatsu, who coached two years in Texas, said that Kevin Millwood, at least early, was the best he had ever seen him.
“I think at the start of that game, Millwood was probably as good as anyone I’ve seen this year, as far as command,” Wakamatsu said. “He was literally unhittable. He topped out at 93 and kept our hitters off-balance.
“You think, maybe we’ll be aggressive against him early. All of a sudden, you say, no, we’ll take some pitches, and the guy goes 0-2 on you. He really had both sides of the plate working. That was probably as good as I’ve seen him since I’ve known him over a six-year period.”
Felix Hernandez was definitely hampered by the flu but didn’t use it as an excuse — even though it was probably a valid one.
“I felt all right,” he said. “I was kind of tired in the fourth inning, but that’s not an excuse for what happened. I made a couple of mistakes. I left some pitches up and they made me pay.”
Wakamatsu praised Sean Whitee and Denny Stark, who combined for three scoreless, hitless innings after Felix exited. And the Mariners earned praise from Rangers’ manager Ron Washington, for whom Wakamatsu was third-base coach two years ago.
“Wakamatsu’s a fundamentalist,” he said. “He’s got them playing good baseball. The key to any good team is pitching. They’ve got speed in the outfield. The infield is as solid as it gets. They look like they’re playing as a team. They’re doing everything I thought the Seattle Mariners could do the past couple of years. They’re just finally putting it together.”
With the Rangers now within 1 1/2 games of first place (and they’re without stud outfielder Josh Hamilton, who is on the DL with a strained rib-cage muscle), this becomes a big game Tuesday afternoon: Erik Bedard against Vicente Padilla. You want to build up some momentum whenever you’re heading into a series against the powerhouse Royals.



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