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Gutierrez goes deep in eighth to seal it

Gutierrez goes deep in eighth to seal it

SEATTLE -- Maybe the kid's going to be OK.

Forced from his closer role after struggling early in the season, Brandon Morrow made another positive stride against San Diego on Wednesday during his conversion from reliever to starter.

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Morrow didn't get the win. But the work he did over five innings held the Padres at bay long enough for Franklin Gutierrez to lift the Mariners to a 4-3 win in front of 22,988 at Safeco Field with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth.

It was the Mariners' 21st come-from-behind win of the season, and again moves them back above .500.

Gutierrez lined a 2-0 fastball from Padres reliever Edward Mujica just over the left-field fence and into the San Diego bullpen to lead off the eighth, breaking a 3-3 tie with what was just the Mariners' second hit since the third inning. The blast was his seventh of the season, and third against the Padres in five games this year.

His career high for home runs in a season is 13, accomplished in 2007 with Cleveland. But this recent surge has, improbably, made him one of the more reliable power threats -- as of late, anyway -- in the Mariners' lineup.

"I don't even know," Gutierrez said, asked about his newfound penchant for the long ball. "I am just swinging the bat and trying to make good contact and see what happens. Sometimes you hit the ball good and it goes out."

It was just what the Mariners were looking for on a night when their execution at the plate was spotty at best. Russell Branyan again bailed his team out with a towering three-run blast to dead center field in the bottom of the second -- his 18th home run of the season -- to give Seattle a 3-2 lead, countering a two-run blast by Kevin Kouzmanoff in the top of the frame that put San Diego up 2-0.

Morrow held that lead until the fifth, when the Padres pieced together three singles to tie the game at 3. But Tony Gwynn's game-tying hit also ended the inning, as Mariners catcher Rob Johnson caught Eliezer Alfonzo too far off second base and picked him off to retire the side.

More importantly, Morrow is nearing a comfort level that simply hasn't existed for him yet this season. Many wondered whether he wouldn't be better served in Triple-A Tacoma, but Wednesday's effort seems to suggest that he's getting the hang of things at the big league level.

"I felt good," Morrow said. "I'd still like to be a little more conservative with my pitches, but I made some great pitches to get some big double plays, left the game tied and in good position to win."

Morrow gave up three runs on six hits in what was his most successful -- and promising -- outing to date. He induced two double play balls, including an unassisted twin-killing he turned in by himself after catching a popped-up bunt attempt by Gwynn and sprinting to first base to double off Everth Cabrera in the third inning. Morrow also coaxed a 6-4-3 double play that got him out of the fourth.

His stamina also seems to be progressing. Morrow threw a season-high 87 pitches (57 for strikes) after following strict pitch counts in his first two outings and not being able to go more than four innings in either of them.

"He ended up giving up the base hit that tied the game, but overall we stretched him out to 85 pitches and he's close to being full go," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Next outing he should be fine. It's an improvement and we're headed in the right direction."

Yet another Mariners injury put somewhat of a damper on things shortly after Gutierrez's homer. Yuniesky Betancourt strained his lower right hamstring while running out a groundball in the eighth inning, and had to be removed. Wakamatsu said Betancourt will undergo an MRI on Thursday, and will likely miss some time.

Consider it another setback that this team has simply taken in stride, thanks to contributions like the one Chris Jakubauskas gave tonight. Jakubauskas was brilliant in relief of Morrow -- which has kind of been the plan since this whole reliever-to-starter shift got going. Jakubauskas tossed scoreless sixth and seventh innings, bridging the gap almost flawlessly between Morrow and the late-inning portion of Seattle's 'pen.

"The key to me in this game is Jakubauskas," Wakamatsu said. "We seem to be able to keep him behind Morrow right now, and he came and pitched extremely well. He gave us two solid innings."

Sean White picked up the win after pitching a scoreless eighth, and David Aardsma fanned two batters in the ninth for his 15th save of the season.

And that seems to be what's working for the Mariners (36-35) right now -- stay in the game long enough for the bullpen to take over, and find some offense late.

This time, Morrow (0-3, 5.64 ERA) had as much to do with it as anyone -- something Mariners fans have been waiting for all season.

"They didn't tell me there was going to be a pitch count or anything like that," Morrow said. "I'm sure they had one in mind. I just put that out of my mind and I was just going to keep going. I felt pretty good, even when they took me out."

That's not something he could say two months ago.

Christian Caple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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