SEATTLE -- Obviously manager Scott Servais would love to go to flame-throwing rookie closer Edwin Diaz in every save situation. But there are times when a skipper needs to save his rookie closer, and Sunday appeared to be one of those opportunities, with the Mariners taking a three-run lead into the ninth inning against the scuffling Brewers and veteran Tom Wilhelmsen waiting in the wings.
Though Diaz hadn't thrown Saturday, the 22-year-old needed 27 and 34 pitches in his last two wobbly saves, and Servais knows he needs to protect the youngster for the long haul. So in came Wilhelmsen and out went the win when Milwaukee rallied for four runs with a pair of long balls and a misplayed single -- off Vidal Nuno -- that drove in the go-ahead run in the Mariners' 7-6 loss.
"I thought going into the ninth inning we were obviously in a good spot and had a three-run lead and we'd determined pregame that we'd probably stay away from Edwin, with the innings and number of pitches he threw the other night," Servais said. "I thought we were in a good spot. Tom Wilhelmsen has given us everything he's got this year, it just wasn't his day."
After a leadoff homer by Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton, it was a two-run opposite field shot by Chris Carter that proved the ultimate gut punch. With a man on second, Wilhelmsen fell behind Carter 3-0. That prompted a mound visit from catcher Chris Iannetta, who told Wilhelmsen to not give Carter anything good to hit with first base open.
Wilhelmsen fired two perfect strikes on the outside corner at the bottom of the zone to Carter. But on his third attempt at that spot, he left the ball up just enough for the big first baseman to launch a shot that just eluded the leaping effort of right fielder Shawn O'Malley.
"Chris came out and said, 'We've got a base open here. This is a guy we don't want to beat us,'" Wilhelmsen said. "But there's still some fight in me. I don't want to just say, 'Here you go, sir, go ahead and take first base.' I've faced him many times and gotten him out many times. That one just didn't stay down enough. He went out and got it."
Wilhelmsen came into the game with a 1.47 ERA in 20 appearances for Seattle, and he hadn't allowed a run in his previous 8 1/3 innings. Iannetta said he threw the ball well again in this outing, despite the results.
"Carter hit a ball that was off the plate and away to the opposite field for a home run at Safeco Field," Iannetta said. "You don't see that very often. Then they got some hits and scored some runs, which was tough. Obviously we could have made a couple plays and didn't, we could have made a few more pitches and we didn't."
The Brewers scored the winning run off Nuno on a looping single by Scooter Gennett that left fielder Norichika Aoki seemed to have a bead on before peeling away as it dropped in.
"I'm not quite sure," Servais said. "It was up there a long time. I'm sure everybody agrees it was a ball that probably should have been caught."
Said Aoki, through translator Kosuke Inaji: "I felt the presence of the center fielder there. He didn't come for the ball, but I felt him coming."
To top things off, the Brewers appeared to have run themselves into the final out moments later when Jonathan Villar flied out to O'Malley in right and he fired home to Iannetta. When lead runner Manny Pina held at third, Gennett appeared dead to rights when he sprinted from second to third. But Iannetta walked the ball toward the bag without making a throw as Gennett sprinted safely back to second.
Iannetta said he played it conservatively in "an inning where things were escalating pretty quickly."
"If we have a three-run lead, I run him back hard and dump it off to either [Kyle] Seager or the second baseman and we have two run downs," Iannetta said. "In that situation, though, we only have the pitcher behind me … so you have to hope the second baseman or first baseman rotate around behind that. That's a lot going on, especially that inning where things kind of sped up on us.
"You don't want to keep throwing the ball all over the place and have a double run downs going down, especially with everything going on that inning. The safe play right there was let him go back to second, re-set that inning, and it worked. We got the punchout right after that."
Indeed, in the end, that play didn't cost the Mariners. The damage had already been done.
"We're disappointed, no doubt," Servais said. "Nobody is happy about that one. We'll be back at it tomorrow, and we've got a lot of games left to play. But today, that one hurt a little bit."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.