In the end, the Mariners held on Wednesday night for a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins. Their bullpen negotiated the final 11 outs with no damage, although there were a few anxious moments.
Edwin Diaz stranded two inherited runners in the eighth inning and two more of his own in the ninth inning. It was the second save in his career that covered more than three outs. He also went four outs on April 28 in a 3-1 victory at Cleveland.
Those early May hiccups are receding in the distance. Diaz has now allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings in seven outings since reclaiming his job as the club’s closer.
"I think he’s getting a grasp on his mechanics and his emotions," catcher Mike Zunino said. "Before, he would just try to throw harder and harder and harder. Now, he’s found his rhythm. He knows what he needs to do.
"He can locate the fastball and the slider when he needs to. That’s what good pitchers do. They get right back into it with the next pitch."
A walk and a squib single put Diaz in a one-out jam in the ninth inning but he regrouped by striking out Eddie Rosario, who had three homers Tuesday in the Twins’ 20-7 romp, before retiring Brian Dozier on a routine fly to center.
It shouldn’t have been this close.
The Mariners built an early 5-0 lead against Twins ace Ervin Santana (8-4) on homers by Mitch Haniger and Zunino but wasted several opportunities to extend their lead.
Then Minnesota struck back.
Rookie Sam Gaviglio (3-1) gave up homers in the fifth to Eduardo Escobar and Byron Buxton. After the Mariners countered with a run in the sixth, manager Scott Servais tried to coax another inning from Gaviglio.
"At that point, we’re up 6-2," Servais said, "and we’ve got a little wiggle room."
Not for long. Gaviglio gave up a one-out single to Joe Mauer, and then a booming homer to Miguel Sano. That’s when Servais went to the bullpen, and it delivered.
The Mariners (33-34) have a chance to get back to .500 when the four-game series concludes at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Thursday at Target Field.
Three takeaways from Wednesday’s victory:
***Gamel’s catch: The catch by left fielder Ben Gamel in the eighth inning is a candidate for play of the year. He made a leaping catch while crashing into the wall in foul territory on Joe Mauer’s one-out slicing fly.
Gamel then bounced off the wall, slammed face first to the ground and held the ball. With a hair flip, he held up his glove hand with the ball inside. Third base umpire Sam Holbrook confirmed the out.
"It didn’t feel good," Gamel said later. "All that spinning around. My left butt cheek hurts. I don’t know why."
One other thing: Gamel went 3-for-5 and raised his average to .341.
***Lengthening the lineup: Haniger’s return to the lineup is an undeniable boost, but the Mariners are getting sustained production from several other players who struggled earlier in the season.
Danny Valencia went 2-for-5 and is batting .323 since April 25. Jarrod Dyson went 2-for-5 and is batting .345 over his last 19 games. Zunino is batting .319 in 20 games since his May 22 recall from Triple-A Tacoma with six homers and 21 RBIs.
***Bullpen perspective: Look past the constant shuttling of pitchers to-and-from Tacoma in order to keep a fresh long reliever on hand.
The four guys who have been here all year — Diaz, Nick Vincent, Marc Rzepczynski and James Pazos — have a 2.60 ERA in 105 combined appearances.
Those are the four who bridged the final 11 outs in Wednesday’s victory.
Add Tony Zych, who was activated April 14, and the core group’s numbers get a little better at 2.57 in 126 outings.
Then dig a little deeper.
Dan Altavilla has a 2.77 ERA in 10 games since his May 14 recall from Tacoma, and veteran Steve Cishek has allowed one run in 7 2/3 innings in his last seven outings.
Those seven comprise the current bullpen along with the ever-changing long reliever.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners