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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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April 26, 2008 10:21 PM

Norton, Bedard deliver

Posted by Geoff Baker

ath0426 020.jpg

The last thing a team needs is to see J.J. Putz coming in a game with Seattle ahead by four. Even though Putz walked a pair, loading the bases with one out and yielding a two-run single to Daric Barton in the ninth, you still got the feeling the Oakland Athletics had no shot. At least, if you're an M's fan, you prayed they didn't. Come on, though. Even after Putz wild-pitched the tying run into scoring position, or went 3-0 in the count on Kurt Suzuki, who out there really believed he was going to blow a four-run lead? Even after he walked the bases loaded on his 33rd pitch of the inning to bring up veteran Mike Sweeney (who'd homered his last at-bat). Geez, I'm sweating just writing this. Sure, Putz made things interesting. I'm curious to know what the problem was. Seemed to be his release point as he kept missing high. Putz had plenty of room to play with. He seems to tighten up and do better when there's no room for error. In the end, despite the sweating, the Mariners took home a 5-3 win. The A's were dominated by the starting work of Erik Bedard, outclassed when it counted by Arthur Rhodes and damaged big-time by the bat of Greg Norton.

Quite a night for Norton, now batting .500 on the season and 1.000 in the minds of Mariners fans after delivering three hits, three RBI and a run scored. All in a spot start replacing struggling DH Jose Vidro, who'd hit just 2-for-15 (.135) on the current homestand. Nothing like a wakeup call to get guys going. Thing is, Norton could get another start after this.

"I was just able to get some decent swings on some balls,'' Norton said. "As bench players, we do a lot of extra work and we try to stay ready for when we're needed.''

Mariners manager John McLaren said he wants to keep Norton "in the mix'' going forward, but emphasized the team has not lost confidence in Vidro. We'll see. Vidro has to step it up.

McLaren raved about the work by Bedard. He said Putz seemed a little rusty still from his injury layoff and that his rhythm was off. Going forward, he said, the team will be getting Putz regular work even if it has to be in non-save situations.

Mariners catcher Jamie Burke said Bedard's biggest weapon was his two-seam fastball inside on righty hitters. The pitch kept breaking back over the plate for called strikes.

"It backs them off the plate and it comes right back across the inner half,'' he said. "As a hitter, that's a tough pitch to handle, especially from a lefty into a righty. We’re bailing out of there, the next thing you know, it comes back across the plate.''

Bedard said he was surprised to be able to get so deep in the game so quickly. He was a bit tired heading into the seventh, but full value for the 95 pitches he threw. It's about 10 more than the M's had expected to see him throw and they got him out of there when Oakland put two on. Rhodes, as you know, did a good job bailing Seattle out of a bases loaded jam after that by striking out Ryan Sweeney.

Rhodes said it was huge to have Bedard come through like that one day after long reliever Cha Seung Baek was taxed by Miguel Batista's one-inning outing.

"He stepped it up,'' Rhodes said of Bedard. "He brought his A-game tonight and did a pretty good job.''

Indeed he did.

The M's needed this win in a big way. They gain a game on both the Angels and the A's and sit three back in the AL West. Better than losing this one and facing the possibility of dropping six games out tomorrow. Like I said, a big win. Even if it is only April.

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