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Iwakuma pitches seven strong, Mariners hold off Twins

Associated Press

8/18/2012 1:27:19 AM

SEATTLE - John Jaso began thinking about it after the fourth inning.

Felix Hernandez threw the first perfect game in Mariners history Wednesday, and Hisashi Iwakuma started Friday night by retiring 12 consecutive batters — enough to make Seattle's designated hitter wonder if something special was happening again.

"I did think about it, I can't lie," Jaso said.

Iwakuma didn't end up perfect, but he did plenty by throwing seven impressive innings and allowing no earned runs in Seattle's 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

Justin Morneau's double to open the fifth snapped a streak of 42 consecutive batters retired by Mariners pitching, the longest such streak in the majors since 1974. The previous baserunner to reach against Seattle was Tampa Bay's Jeff Keppinger when he doubled leading off the ninth inning Tuesday.

Matt Carson's single scored Morneau and pulled Minnesota to 3-1, snapping Seattle's 21-inning scoreless streak. Tampa Bay got two runs in the first on Tuesday, the last time the Mariners allowed the opposition to cross the plate.

Iwakuma (4-3) ran into trouble in the fifth, but whiffed Pedro Florimon and Darin Mastroianni with the bases loaded to preserve a two-run lead. Iwakuma allowed four hits and struck out six.

"He did a great job in the fifth inning to leave the bases loaded out there and let them score only one run," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "That was a separator for us."

The veteran of the 2004 Athens Olympics and a decade of pitching as a pro in Japan has won three of his last four decisions. He is 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA and 41 strikeouts in eight starts.

"He's consistently been better throughout the course of this year," Wedge said. "You see more velocity, you see more on the end of his pitches."

Jaso and Miguel Olivo homered early off Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn (4-9), who struggled again. He lasted 5 1-3 innings, allowing five earned runs and 11 hits. He has lost five consecutive decisions and has not won since June 22.

"Typical outing," Blackburn said. "I make a couple mistakes — give up home runs. Make good pitches — give up hits.

"Just don't know where to start."

Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham hit back-to-back homers off Stephen Pryor in the eighth for the Twins. Willingham has 47 home runs since July 29, 2011, passing Josh Hamilton for the most in the majors during that stretch.

But left-handed specialist Lucas Luetge came in to get Morneau out and Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen earned his 17th save with a scoreless ninth.

A single by Dustin Ackley ended Blackburn's night in the sixth and put the Mariners up 5-1. Trayvon Robinson doubled to open the inning and Eric Thames followed with a double down the right-field line to score Robinson.

Olivo hit his ninth home run on the first pitch he saw from Blackburn. Olivo is 12 for 24 with four home runs in his career against the right-hander.

Lefties are hitting .376 this year against Blackburn, and Jaso continued the trend with a two-run homer in the first. His eighth of the year drove in Michael Saunders, who singled to snap an 0-for-17 streak. Jaso reached base three times.

Mauer hit his eighth homer of the year when he drove a slider from the hard-throwing Pryor to centre field in the eighth. Willingham followed with his 31st when he smashed a 98 mph fastball into the Seattle bullpen to cut the lead to 5-3. It was the third time this season the Twins have hit back-to-back home runs.

"Offensively, we didn't do much," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.

NOTES: The Mariners activated left-handed reliever Charlie Furbush from the disabled list and optioned reliever Shawn Kelley to Triple-A Tacoma. Furbush had been sidelined since July 18 with a strained left triceps. Wedge said Kelley was sent down because he had options remaining and the Mariners wanted to look at their young relievers. ... Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe singled in the seventh to stop an 0-for-20 slide.