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07/26/07 1:36 AM ET
Putz finally loses perfection label
Seattle closer blows first save after 29 successful ones
By Jim Street / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- New look, same result. That was the story line at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Wednesday, when most of the Mariners buzzed their heads before the series finale against the Rangers, thinking it would change their luck while adding to team unity. But the novel idea wasn't a streak-ender after all, as Seattle matched its longest skid of the season at six with a stunning 7-6 loss in front of 34,853. The defeat completed a four-game sweep deep in the heart of Texas, and knocked Seattle (54-45) 3 1/2 games behind the American League West-leading Angels. The most shocking aspect of the latest loss was closer J.J. Putz suffering his first blown save of the season after being successful in his first 29 save chances this season and a franchise record 31 straight dating to last season. "You knew it was going to come to an end at some point," he said, "but this really isn't the best time for it to happen." Not with the team on a losing streak. It happened because former Mariners infielder Ramon Vazquez sent a fastball into the first row of seats in right-center field for his fifth home run of the season -- and the most surprising. "You certainly don't expect Vazquez to hit a home run there," manager John McLaren said. "But he did, and that was the ballgame. I'm not saying he can't hit a home run, because he did. But in that situation, you don't see him hitting a home run." Especially with Putz on the mound in a save situation. The All-Star closer had allowed one earned run all season in his 29 save chances, and the first batter he faced with a runner on second base and one out -- Gerald Laird -- struck out swinging. The first two pitches Putz threw to Vazquez missed the strike zone. The third one didn't. "It was a pretty good pitch," Putz said. "It just didn't get all the way to the corner. He put a pretty good swing on it and got it out to that part of the park. You gotta tip your cap on that one. There's not much else you can say about it." Seattle went down quietly in the ninth inning against Joaquin Benoit and packed their bags for the return flight to Seattle, where they open an important 10-game homestand Thursday night against the Athletics at Safeco Field. The Angels and Red Sox follow, setting up possibly the most challenging homestand of the season so far. A turnaround is needed in a hurry. "We're ready to go home," McLaren said after Wednesday night's stunning defeat. "This was not a good road trip (1-6) and we all know that. We have to put it behind us and not dwell on it. We started off with a win in Toronto, but after that we had problems." The seven-game trek started with a 4-2 victory last Friday night against the Blue Jays, moving the Mariners within one game of the first-place Angels, but ended with six straight losses -- five of them by one run. The Mariners trailed for most of Wednesday night's game, but rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth to take a one-run lead. Third baseman Adrian Beltre delivered a clutch, game-tying, two-run double to right field -- his club record-tying third two-bagger of the game -- and scored when Raul Ibanez sliced a double to left field. Seattle rarely blows late-inning leads. But Marlon Byrd delivered a leadoff single to right-center off lefty reliever George Sherrill and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. McLaren made his final pitching change of the night, calling for Putz to get the final five outs. "I felt J.J. was well rested," McLaren said. "He hadn't pitched since Friday. That was the reasoning behind bringing him in at that point. He was fresh." As it turned out, Putz also is human, becoming the final closer in the Major Leagues this season to have a blown save. "Nobody feels worse than J.J.," McLaren said. "He's the ultimate gamer. I feel bad for him, but he gave it his best shot. It didn't work out." Until their eighth-inning rally, the Mariners kept getting runners on base, and leaving them there. When Ichiro Suzuki popped out to shallow center field with runners on second and third bases and one out in the eighth, Seattle was 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Beltre picked up the team in a big way with his third double of the game, a shot just inside the first-base bag, and Ibanez followed with his second double of the game, to left field. What looked like a game-winning hit turned into a go-ahead hit. "We need to get out of here," McLaren said. "It just didn't work here. This was not a good four games here, and now we're going home."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.