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September 26, 2010 at 1:16 PM

Mariners at Tampa Bay Rays: Sept. 26, 2010 game thread

Dan Cortes just struck out the side in the eighth inning, fanning Kelly Shoppach on a 98 mph fastball to end the frame. So, the M’s lead it 6-2 as we head to the ninth. They got an unearned run in the seventh inning when Franklin Gutierrez reached on a two-out error, then saw Justin Smoak and Matt Mangini add singles to bring him home.
Luke French gave up two straight singles in the bottom of the sixth before being pulled. Jamey Wright came on and did a great job retiring the side, the worked through a one-hit seventh — and it was an infield hit at that.
Brandon League will close out the ninth. This could be a preview of next year’s late-inning bullpen, since David Aardsma is currently out with a slight oblique strain. Aardsma could get traded this winter and it’s very likely that would leave League as closer and Cortes as the set-up man.
Cortes could possibly be the closer at some point next season, but it’s doubtful the team would let him begin in that role in his first full big league season. So far, with four strikeouts and six up, six down his first two innings, Cortes looks like he belongs.
The Mariners will send Russell Branyan and Mike Carp back to Seattle after today’s game to get their medical conditions re-evaluated. Branyan has been fighting back stiffness, while Carp strained the arch in his right foot last night.
Carp said after the game that he felt fine. But that changed today.
“For right now, he’s sore this morning,” Mariners manager Daren Brown said. “It’s a strained arch but until we really see what’s going on, that’s where we’ll leave it.”
Carp will fly with the team to Dallas after the game, then head back to Seattle tomorrow for an MRI. Branyan will also accompany the team to Dallas, then fly to Seattle to see a spine specialist.
Brown said Branyan will do that “just to see the doctor and make sure we’re not missing anything.”
While it’s possible both could fly back to Texas if everything checks out fine, Brown didn’t sound like that would actually happen. He kept repeating that the team just wants to proceed cautiously with both. Yes, this could be the end of Branyan’s season.
As to how much that matters, the M’s have to go 5-3 over their final eight games to avoid 100 losses. They could catch a break in Texas, since the Rangers rotation is now up in the air after they clinched the AL West title yesterday.
Still, the M’s have to score in order to win. They don’t score very often, no matter who is on the mound.

12:27 p.m.: It looked like the sixth inning was going to be another wasted one for the M’s when Greg Halman went down swinging with runners at second and third and one out. But then Josh Wilson stepped up and stunned the crowd by depositing a James Shields pitch into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer.
Wilson had not gone deep since May 10. It was his second homer of the season.
Shields has now allowed 34 homers this season, breaking the Tampa Bay team mark of 33 held by him and Tanyon Sturtze. I covered Sturtze in Toronto. We used to call him “Ten-Run” Sturtze, though never to his face. Let’s see whether Luke French can hold this 5-2 lead for more than a few minutes.
12:15 p.m.: Seattle finally scored some runs, but the Rays came right back in the bottom of the fifth and tied the game 2-2. First, it was the Mariners taking the lead on a two-out walk by Ichiro, a double from Chone Figgins and then a two-run single by Jose Lopez in the top of the fifth.
But Luke French got roughed-up big time in the bottom of the frame,yielding a leadoff double to Sean Rodriguez, then, one out later, a steal of third in which the runner barely beat a bang-bang throw. Desmond Jennings then tripled to the gap in right center to bring in Tampa Bay’s first run.
B.J. Upton tied it with an ensuing single. Seattle caught a break after that when Upton was nabbed by a French pickoff move and thrown out easily at second. That was huge because Jason Bartlett followed with a double down the left field line. French finally got out of it on a flyball to center by Rocco Baldelli after a walk to Willy Aybar.
French threw a lot of pitches that inning and was hit hard, even on the outs. ould not be surprised if he’s pulled.
11:36 p.m.: We’re scoreless as we head to the bottom of the fourth inning. The Mariners had a runner on third with one out in the fourth, following a steal by Franklin Gutierrez and a throwng error by catcher Dioner Navarro. But then Matt Mangini went down swinging and Josh Bard grounded out.
Seattle has four hits and has stranded four runners today. The Rays have just two hits and have left three on against Luke French.
The stolen base by Gutierrez gives him 25 for the season. It marks the second time in franchise history that three players have stolen at least 25 bags, with Chone Figgins (42) and Ichiro (41) being the other two. In 2001, Mike Cameron. Ichiro and Mark McLemore had at least 25 steals each.
This is the ninth time since 2000 that a team has turned the trick. All those steals with so few runs this year once again demonstrates how historically awful this offense has been.
10:23 a.m.: Tampa Bay goes for the series sweep against Luke French and company today. James Shields of the Rays gives up a ton of homers — 33 so far this season — but the M’s don’t have any home run hitters, so that edge is somewhat negated.
The lineups:
RF Ichiro
2B Chone Figgins
DH Jose Lopez
CF Franklin Gutierrez
1B Justin Smoak
3B Matt Mangini
C Josh Bard
LF Greg Halman
SS Josh Wilson
LHP Luke French
CF B.J. Upton
SS Jason Bartlett
3B Willy Aybar
RF Rocco Baldelli
1B Carlos Pena
DH Kelly Shoppach
2B Sean Rodriguez
C Dioner Navarro
LF Desmond Jennings
RHP James Shields

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