Beltre blasts walk-off homer in 11th
Third baseman also sparked tying rally off Nathan in ninth
SEATTLE -- Entering the bottom of the ninth inning on Monday night at Safeco Field, the game had gone pretty much according to plan.The last-place Mariners had put up a fight, but when the later innings came around, the pennant-contending Twins clawed out the tiebreaking run in the eighth that they needed and handed the ball off to their ace closer, Joe Nathan, to finish off a win at a time in their season when each game holds incredible importance. But the Mariners didn't quite read the script correctly in that ninth inning, when they scored a run off Nathan to tie the score. And third baseman Adrian Beltre then took it a step further, completely blowing that original scenario out of the water in the bottom of the 11th with a scorching liner over the left-field fence for a walk-off, two-run homer off Jesse Crain to give the Mariners a thrilling 4-2 victory, as those left over from the initial crowd of 23,277 were sent out of the stadium and into the chilly Seattle night with a chaotic climax. For Beltre, who followed a one-out Raul Ibanez walk, it was some vindication after a tough year that has seen him hit numerous balls hard and have little to show for it besides warning-track flyouts. "It seems like it's repeating myself every night, but he's just been hitting bad luck all year. His numbers don't indicate how good he's hitting the ball," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He hit that ball so hard it looked like at the end it had some topspin, [like] it might kind of not carry as much as it did. But fortunately for us, it did." Beltre also has played through some injuries, including a recent sore left shoulder that forced him into the designated-hitter role for a couple of games before he returned to third base on Monday.
While Riggleman pointed out the durability, calling him "probably one of the most physically toughest players I've ever seen play the game," Beltre shied away from such questioning."I don't like to talk about how I'm injured or anything like that. I'm good enough to play," he said. And the injuries certainly didn't mean he escaped the contact from the crowd of teammates at home plate after the long ball. "I was happy when I hit the ball, but [as] I turned third, I saw everybody waiting for me," he said. "I knew what kind of whoop I was going to get at home. I'm telling you, I'm not going to play tomorrow if my body's all beat up. All the guys beat me really bad." It's a pain he can deal with, though. "Yea I'll take it -- any time," he said. Beltre was also the reason there was even extra innings in the first place, as he led off the ninth inning with a double into the right-center-field gap against Nathan, who had a 0.98 ERA coming into the game. That was followed by an error from shortstop Nick Punto on a ground ball that Beltre ran extremely close to on his way to third, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Pinch-hitter Jeff Clement then hit into a ground-ball double play that scored Beltre and sent the game to extras. "I don't really hit well against [Nathan], but he hung one of those sliders that he always gets me out with over the plate, and I was lucky enough to put it into the gap," Beltre said. Relievers J.J. Putz and R.A. Dickey each retired the Twins in order in the 10th and 11th innings, respectively, to give the Mariners a shot at the walk-off win. "I think when the bullpen has short innings, quick innings, we can keep the momentum on our side," Dickey said. "Baseball's a lot about rhythm, it's a lot about momentum. And if we can keep that momentum and have quick innings and not have to scrap to survive an inning, get us back in the dugout and [in] good rhythm, I think it always helps." Starters Miguel Batista and Francisco Liriano canceled each other out with six-inning, one-run performances before the Twins used a two-out RBI single by Delmon Young in the eighth off Sean Green to nose ahead. The win made the Mariners a spoiler once again against the Twins, who must not be too fond of Safeco Field after losing two of three there earlier in the month. The walk-off also gave Beltre and his team something to celebrate in the midst of a tough year, and they did so in style -- as evidenced by the loud noise in the clubhouse and spirits poured all over Beltre's upper body when he sat down by his locker for the postgame interview. "We celebrated this like we would have celebrated if we were in the pennant. It's still fun to contribute and be part of a community of guys that are fighting to do something. That's what competition's all about," Dickey said. "Whether you're 50 games out or one game out or one game up, it doesn't matter. We all ... we've got a bond in here and as bad as we played this year there's still that bond that we're teammates and we're competitors, and we're going to celebrate if there's reason to celebrate, so it was fun."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.