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Sexson delivers big blow

Larry LaRue Tacoma News Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS – The kids put on another good showing, The Kid pitched another marvelous eight innings, and then the first baseman sent a fastball into the stands and a crowd into the night. The things the Seattle Mariners have to do to win a game.

Richie Sexson’s second home run of the night – a 10th-inning grand slam – pushed the Mariners past the Minnesota Twins Saturday, 8-3. The hard part for the Mariners was getting the game into extra innings.

Rookie Felix Hernandez gave up two first-inning runs and then nothing more through eight. And for the first six innings, the Mariners couldn’t score.

“I didn’t have command of my fastball in the first inning, but after that I knew they had two runs, I wasn’t going to give them any more,” Hernandez said.

He didn’t, but the problem was Twins right-hander Kyle Lohse wasn’t giving the Mariners anything, period.

Oh, Sexson hit a long drive to center field that Lew Ford turned into an out with a superb catch, but other than that, the Mariners rarely threatened against Lohse. Then came the seventh inning.

Sexson led off with his 31st home run to get Seattle on the scoreboard, and Adrian Beltre followed two pitches later with his 18th, and the Mariners were even.

“All night, I kept hearing I had warning track power from some fans out there,” Sexson said. “I didn’t hear much after the seventh inning.”

Using the last of his 115 pitches, Hernandez got through eight innings tied, striking out nine Twins batters to give him 20 strikeouts in his last two starts. It wasn’t enough to win, but he didn’t lose, either.

Instead, George Sherrill pitched the ninth – ending a 1-2-3 inning with a behind-the-back catch of a ground ball from Matthew LeCroy. That left Sherrill as the pitcher of record going into extra innings.

Jamal Strong led off the 10th with a triple that was nearly an out. As he rounded second base after his first major league hit, Strong slowed to a near stop, then spotted third base coach Carlos Garcia furiously waving him on.

Strong started up again, and as the ball and runner arrived at third, the throw bounced off Strong’s back.

Safe.

“I didn’t pick the third base coach up quick enough,” Strong admitted.

“When I started up again, I knew it was going to be close.”

What did Garcia say when Strong got to third?

“He said, ‘Pick me up sooner,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ ” Strong said.

On the bench, the manager could hardly watch.

“I didn’t know who I was going to shoot first, Jamal or Carlos, but if he’d been out, I’d probably have shot one of them,” Mike Hargrove said.

Instead, Strong was on third and fellow rookie Yuniesky Betancourt singled him home for a lead that soon grew huge – the Mariners getting an RBI double from Willie Bloomquist, then Sexson’s slam.

The eighth grand slam of his career, the second of the season, Sexson’s drive was a bolt that left the park screaming. By the time it landed, most of the crowd of 33,334 was heading out of the Metrodome.

Afterward, Sexson was asked about Hernandez and his fourth major league start.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Every team has one or two guys who you think can stop a losing streak, and you need a guy who can do that. Felix is that guy, already. It’s been fun having him here.”

Hargrove shrugged when asked if he saw anything different in Hernandez than he’d seen in his first three starts.

“He pitched well. He gave up a couple in the first inning – he left one pitch up and it was hit for a two-run single,” Hargrove said. “Then he held them right there until we broke through.

“The thing you have to like is that he’s got one pitch he throws 96-97 mph and it sinks. He’s got a great curveball he commands in the strike zone and he’s got a nasty change-up with movement.

“All of that is what makes him special.”

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he’s seen quite enough of young Felix, thanks.

“I saw who was starting and I thought, oh man, him again?” said Gardenhire, whose Twins lost to Hernandez 10 days ago, 1-0. “That kid can pitch. I don’t care how old he is, he can pitch.”

For the record, he’s still 19. And his record is still 2-1, his earned run average now 1.24.

Facing a team the second time around, Hernandez insisted he wasn’t concerned. The Twins had seen him once, but he’d seen them, too.

“They know me, but if I make good pitches, I’ll get outs,” Hernandez said.

“If I make bad pitches, they’ll hit them. Every time I go out there, I try to learn from the experience. I try to keep it together, give the team the chance to win. After the first inning, my confidence and my command improved.”

Added Hargrove: “The Twins were more prepared for him, they were smarter in their approach this time, and he still held them to two runs and struck out nine. It didn’t seem to bother him out there.”

Meche goes on DL

Gil Meche, ineffective for more than a month, was placed on the 15-day disabled list by the Seattle Mariners, who said he was battling patellar tendinitis.

“I fought it all last season and for the last three months,” Meche said. “It feels like a bruised shin.

The Mariners will recall a pitcher from Class AAA Tacoma today – probably right-hander Jeff Harris.

Meche’s spot in the rotation doesn’t come up until Thursday at Texas.

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