May 25, 2011 in Sports

Balk call leads to demise of M’s six-game streak

Jon Krawczynski Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Twins catcher Rene Rivera tags out Mariners’ Miguel Olivo in the seventh.
(Full-size photo)

MINNEAPOLIS – Doug Fister cruised through the first six innings against Minnesota, keeping the struggling Twins off balance by mixing his pitches and getting them to flail at a few outside the zone.

It all unraveled in the seventh when a balk forced home the go-ahead run, and Fister was still shaking his head about the call after the game.

Nick Blackburn outdueled Fister by delivering a complete game the Twins desperately needed and the Mariners watched their six-game winning streak come to an end in a 4-2 loss on Tuesday night.

“I’ve been called on balks before, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been called on one like that,” Fister said. “But it’s up to his interpretation.”

Replays appeared to show a clear balk from Fister, who faked a throw to third base and wheeled to throw to first when he was called for the infraction.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge hollered from the dugout, but did not come on to the field to protest the call. He said he planned to speak with the umpiring crew about the call later Tuesday night and didn’t think that it was first-base umpire Alfonso Marquez’s call to make.

“I think he figured (Fister) didn’t step all the way to third base,” Wedge said. “But in my opinion that’s not his call from behind anyway. That was a big moment right there.”

The balk allowed Rene Rivera to score and moved Alexi Casilla to second. Denard Span followed with an RBI double to make it 4-2, and the Mariners didn’t have another comeback in them against Blackburn (4-4), who allowed seven hits and struck out six in his fifth career complete game.

Fister (2-5) gave up four runs and nine hits with six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.

“I felt like I was making pitches and keeping the ball down in the zone for the most part,” he said. “They hit a few and capitalized on my mistakes.”

Miguel Olivo hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning for the Mariners, who lost for just the second time in nine games. Afterward, they weren’t about to let one loss diminish what they’ve done in the past two weeks.

They lost 11 of their first 15 games this season, but have rebounded of late. They had won seven of their past eight games and entered the game just one victory shy of .500.

“We’re playing good baseball,” Wedge said. “We’re getting better. We’ve got a lot of guys that are working to move forward and figure out what they’re capable of and what they need to do. And they’ll keep getting better.”

Blackburn’s gem couldn’t have come at a better time for Minnesota’s beleaguered bullpen.

Closer Matt Capps and set-up man Joe Nathan were both unavailable after throwing on Monday night and right-hander Kevin Slowey was scheduled to be tested for a sports hernia today and was not an option.

“He threw a good ballgame against us,” Wedge said. “They extended him a little bit and he was able to finish off, but he had good stuff all night long.”

The Twins took a 2-0 lead in the third on a squeeze bunt from Matt Tolbert.

Olivo’s two-run homer in the fourth tied the game, but the Twins’ defense picked up Blackburn with a couple of stellar plays. Jason Kubel made a diving catch in right field to end the fourth and Alexi Casilla charged a grounder to throw out Olivo at home plate and keep the game tied in the seventh.

“We’re not going to mope around too much,” shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “We’ve had a nice run and we thought we could’ve won that game too.”

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