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Twins stumble late despite solid pitching

Late rally sinks Twins in tough-luck loss

SEATTLE -- There are plenty of teams in the Major Leagues who have seen Ken Griffey Jr. deliver his share of big hits against them during his storied career.

It's just that the Twins, well, they have seen more than most.

So it should come as no surprise that when the big hit was delivered on Saturday afternoon at Safeco Field in the Twins' 2-1 loss to the Mariners, it was the future Hall of Famer who was inflicting the damage.

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Griffey used that trademark sweet swing of his in the eighth inning to hit an RBI double into the left-field gap off Twins left-hander Sean Henn, scoring the winning run from first base.

It was the 116th career RBI for Griffey against the Twins, which is the second most he's recorded against any team, and the crowd of 30,600 at Safeco Field gave its homegrown star a huge ovation as he was replaced by pinch-runner Wladimir Balentien.

"It's just crazy how he comes back here after 10 years and how much love the city is giving him," Twins outfielder Denard Span said. "It's special."

Special for the Mariners, but not for the Twins, who saw a one-run game go the other way after pulling off the same kind of victory in Friday's series opener.

Griffey's two-out RBI broke up what had been a 1-1 ballgame for most of the afternoon. It marked the second straight day that the two teams were embroiled in that kind of tight pitching duel. But this time it was the Mariners who were able to get the key run to score.

After starter Nick Blackburn exited the contest, having allowed just one run on six hits over seven innings, the Twins turned to Henn for the start of the eighth. From the very start of his inning, Henn was handed a series of poor breaks.

The lefty gave up a leadoff single to Ichiro Suzuki on an infielder chopper that carried just over the pitching mound and landed in the infield. It was the third hit of the day for the speedy Mariners outfielder, who also knotted the game at 1 in the fifth with his RBI double to right-center field.

Henn got the next two batters out in order -- striking out Russell Branyan looking and getting Adrian Beltre to fly out to center. But facing Griffey, Henn fell behind 2-0 and threw a fastball that Griffey was able to get his bat on enough to lace it for an opposite-field double.

"I threw the pitch where I wanted to," Henn said. "But I put myself behind the eight ball and there is not a whole lot you can do facing a guy like that down 2-0."

"Griffey did what he does best, he drove the ball to the gap," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire added "But we had our opportunities earlier in the ballgame."

Considering that the Twins pitching staff delivered another stellar performance -- combining to allow just the two runs -- the disappointment for Gardenhire and the rest of the club after the loss was their inability to capitalize on those early scoring chances.

Mariners left-hander Jarrod Washburn had proven to be difficult on the Twins in previous meetings and this time was no different. Washburn nearly matched Blackburn's effort -- allowing just one run on seven hits over his six innings. He gave up the game's first run on Mike Redmond's two-out double to right-center in the fourth that carried just out of Suzuki's reach.

But the Twins weren't without other opportunities to get to the tough southpaw.

In the third inning, the Twins faced a bases-loaded situation with only one out and Justin Morneau at the plate. Washburn got Morneau to strike out swinging, but during his next at-bat facing Joe Crede, the lefty threw a wild pitch that sailed to the backstop.

Delmon Young tried to score from third base on the wild pitch, but catcher Guillermo Quiroz got the ball quickly back to Washburn, who tagged Young out before he could touch home plate.

"Delmon didn't get a very good jump on that ball," Gardenhire said. "With two strikes, you should be down the line a little farther and be ready for that. I think he got a little tentative and then gets thrown out at home. He can do a little better baserunning there because I think you should score on that ball even though it did bounce back pretty good to [the catcher]."

After Griffey's clutch hit, the Twins were able to get the tying run to within 90 feet of home plate in the ninth. Redmond drew a one-out walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Carlos Gomez. A passed ball put Gomez on second and he then reached third on pinch-hitter Brian Buscher's two-out infield single to Beltre at third. But Span grounded out to second base for the final out of the game.

"It's tough whenever you lose, period, but it's definitely tough when pitching did their job today," Span said. "Whenever you hold a team to two runs, you should win that game 99 percent of the time."

The Twins have found difficulty in pulling off these types of close contests on the road. The club had hoped that Friday's one-run win over Seattle would be the boost to get it going in the right direction. Instead, the clubhouse was disappointed over watching yet another potential victory escape.

"Today we had plenty of chances to win the game," Gardenhire said. "I think we all know it. you go up and down, we had plenty of chances to get a big hit. If we keep getting pitching like that we'll be fine. ... You give up two runs, it's about the offense getting the job done more than the pitching."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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