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Tuesday, April 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mariners

Long game's journey into night ends in balk-off win

Seattle Times staff reporter

Finally, Oakland buckled, though not until after the number of seventh-inning stretches had equaled the number of runs scored.

And not until the couple of thousand fans who were still left at Safeco Field were treated to one of the most bizarre finishes in recent Mariners history.

Seattle beat Oakland 2-1 in 14 innings last night — a game that took 4 hours, 47 minutes to play — when Oakland reliever Justin Duchscherer balked home Quinton McCracken for the deciding run.

Seattle had runners on first and third on the play, and the A's had five infielders trying to cut off the winning run. Duchscherer wheeled to third, then threw to unsuspecting first baseman Eric Karros, who made the catch in vain as the balk was called.

Duchscherer and Oakland manager Ken Macha each argued that the play was legal.

"I don't think I balked, but they said I did," Duchscherer said. "They said I didn't go to third base (and instead went toward home before throwing to first) but I think if you watch the tape that I did."

Macha said Duchscherer threw to first because Seattle's Bret Boone had run on the play before and they were trying to get him for what would have been the second out of the inning.

"It was legal," Macha said. "I know what I saw, and I'm not going to comment anymore on that."

The win was a season-high third in a row for Seattle and gives the Mariners four wins in their last five games after a 1-7 start. It was also the first time this season that the Mariners didn't need to come from behind to win.

"Nothing's come easy for us this year, and tonight wasn't easy either, but we'll keep playing as hard as we can," Seattle manager Bob Melvin said.

It was fitting that a balk decided the game, as neither team seemed able to get the key hit needed to win the game.

The A's had the bases loaded in the 10th and 11th innings and couldn't score. The Mariners had the bases loaded in the ninth, 10th and 12th innings and likewise were turned away without scoring.

Oakland also had two runners on base in the 12th and 14th innings and couldn't get anybody home. Seattle likewise had runners reach in the 11th and 13th innings and couldn't score.

McCracken started the winning rally with a single, then moved to third on another single by Boone.

By then, Mariners starter Freddy Garcia was long gone. But in the Seattle clubhouse his effort wasn't forgotten.

Garcia held Oakland to three hits and no runs through seven innings and seemed on the way to his first win of the season. He left with a 1-0 lead thanks to a Raul Ibanez solo homer in the fifth inning off Oakland starter Mark Redman.

But Garcia's potential victory was undone when Oakland's Jermaine Dye led off the ninth inning with a home run off Seattle closer Eddie Guardado that just cleared the wall in right field. Ichiro leaped at the wall but never had a chance to make the catch as a fan's glove got in the way.

It was unclear if the Ichiro could have made the catch.

"I don't know how close it really was," Melvin said.

Much of the crowd of 26,020 — which was the lowest at Safeco Field since last April — initially cheered, thinking Ichiro had come down with the ball.

Instead, it simply tied the score.

And unfortunately for Garcia, it was the second time in two Safeco Field starts this season that he shut out one of other contenders for the American League West title through seven innings only to walk away with no decision.

Only two Oakland players got as far as second base against Garcia. And he struck out seven and allowed just three hits, two of the bloop variety, and two walks.

Garcia now has a 2.25 earned run average in his three starts.

Redman was almost as good, making only one real mistake, a breaking ball on a 1-2 count to Ibanez that caught just a little too much of the plate with two outs in the fifth inning.

Ibanez hit a no-doubt line driver homer to right field, his second in two days. It was also Seattle's fourth homer in the last two games, matching their total from the first 11 games.

After Dye's homer tied it off Guardado — who had gotten saves on Saturday and Sunday — both teams spent the rest of the game leaving runners on base.

Seattle blew a golden opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the ninth when Dan Wilson grounded out with the bases loaded.

Both teams wasted even better chances to win the game in the 10th inning, each loading the bases with two outs before being unable to get the winning run home.

Oakland's Adam Melhuse led off the top of the 10th with a double off Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Marco Scutaro tried twice to bunt Melhuse to third but couldn't, and ended up walking. Mark Kotsay tried twice more to bunt the runners ahead but couldn't and struck out. He was then ejected for arguing the call. Eric Byrnes then flew to left and Eric Chavez walked to load the bases with two outs, bringing up Dye. But Dye looked at two strikes, and then after working the count to 2-2, struck out swinging on a high fastball.

Seattle had an even more opportune chance to win the game in the 10th.

John Olerud led off with a double and was sacrificed to third by an Ichiro bunt. The A's then went to five infielders attempting to cut off pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist from scoring the winning run. But Randy Winn popped up to right-center field. Edgar Martinez was intentionally walked and Boone walked to load the bases.

But Scott Spiezio flew out to right after fouling off two pitches on a full count.

The bases were again loaded by Oakland in the top of the 11th. And again they were left that way. An error, a double and an intentional walk loaded the bases with one out. But Julio Mateo then got Scutaro to hit a foul pop up to right that wasn't deep enough to bring home the run, and Esteban German struck out.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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