Despite losing perfect bid, Iwakuma beats Twins

Despite losing perfect bid, Iwakuma beats Twins

Despite losing perfect bid, Iwakuma beats Twins
SEATTLE -- No, it wasn't perfect. But the Mariners were perfectly fine with Hisashi Iwakuma's outstanding start on Friday night as Seattle topped the Twins, 5-3, to continue their recent run of success at Safeco Field.

The Mariners won for the 10th time in their past 11 home games, improving to 28-30 on the season at Safeco and 56-64 overall.

On the heels of Felix Hernandez's perfect game on Wednesday, Iwakuma retired the first 12 batters he faced until Justin Morneau's leadoff double in the fifth. The former Japanese League standout wound up pitching seven innings, allowing just four hits and one unearned run.

Iwakuma said he drew inspiration from Hernandez's performance, but wasn't thinking about a perfect game of his own. But it was impossible for most observers not to at least ponder the notion after he rolled through the first four frames without a nick.

"I'm not going to lie," said designated hitter John Jaso, who caught Hernandez's perfect outing. "I was kind of thinking it and kind of cheering him on. That would have been cool. He did a great job today."

Morneau's hit ended a string of 42 straight outs by Seattle pitchers dating back to the ninth inning Tuesday against Tampa Bay, the longest run in the Majors since at least 1974. The run shattered the Mariners previous team record of 27.

When right fielder Matt Carson singled home Morneau with one out in the fifth, it snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak by Mariners pitchers going back to the first inning of Tuesday's 3-2 win.

"It's been fun to watch," said closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who finished things off in the ninth for his 17th save. "These guys have been throwing perfect inning after inning after inning."

Seattle's starters are 15-6 with a 2.64 ERA with 20 quality starts over the last 27 games.

"Our guys have fed off each other," said manager Eric Wedge. "I think they've done a nice job of working to go out there, and not just compete as individuals, but the collective five. They go out there and just take their turn and give us every opportunity to win. I think they take a lot of pride in that."

Iwakuma had one walk and six strikeouts while improving to 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA in eight starts since moving into the rotation at midseason. The 31-year-old right-hander is 4-3 with a 3.79 ERA overall, after pitching the first three months of the season in long relief.

Hernandez's perfect outing was not lost in translation.

"I saw him pitch and it was very awesome," Iwakuma said through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba. "So today I tried to do like him when I pitched."

Rookie Stephen Pryor replaced Iwakuma in the eighth and gave up back-to-back home runs to Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, the first runs he's allowed in 10 games, since giving up a solo homer in his Major League debut against the White Sox on June 2.

Otherwise, the Twins -- whose .282 average since the All-Star break is the best in the Majors - couldn't get anything going against Seattle's pitching.

"Offensively we didn't do much," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We had a couple of home runs back-to-back, which kind of got us into the ballgame and made it interesting. But as you saw, [they have] a pretty good closer there. He threw the living fire out of the ball.

"Iwakuma was pretty good, too. He changed speeds. He had a little two-seamer that was running in. You saw a lot of jam shots. He pretty much ate us up for a good amount of the ballgame. Changing speeds, mixing it up with his curveball and his two-seamer was pretty good, with a nice splitter."

Home runs by Jaso and Miguel Olivo staked Iwakuma to an early 3-0 lead, with Jaso's two-run shot in the first followed by Olivo's leadoff smash into the upper deck in left in the second off Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn.

Jaso, hitting .343 with five home runs since the All-Star break after a 2-for-3 night, said the last three straight wins have been extra special, starting with a ninth-inning rally capped by Eric Thames' winning hit to beat the Rays on Tuesday.

"Going back to Eric's walk-off, then the perfect game, was just unbelievable," Jaso said. "Keeping the momentum going in this game was pretty good. Kuma did a good job today and the offense got busy, too."

After Minnesota cut the lead to 3-1, Seattle answered with back-to-back doubles by Trayvon Robinson and Thames in the sixth. An RBI single by Dustin Ackley increased the lead to 5-1 before Blackburn was relieved, having surrendered 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Olivo, Robinson and Thames also had two hits apiece for Seattle, which is 19-11 since July 16.

Olivo is now 12-for-24 against Blackburn with four home runs in his career. Michael Saunders ended an 0-for-17 skid with a first-inning single.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.