MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Wilhelmsen gave one of the most succinct but vivid descriptions ever uttered about the agony of the blown save.
“It’s the bleeping worst thing in the world,” he said. “Letting your team down. There’s nothing else like it. They put you in position to do your job and when you can’t do it, it makes you feel like an (expletive).”
On Saturday, Wilhelmsen experienced every closer’s nightmare, giving up three runs in the bottom of the ninth as the Twins stormed from behind for a 5-4 victory at Target Field.
It was the second time on this road trip, and the third time in his past four opportunities, he hasn’t been able to hold a lead. But this one was particularly painful as Wilhelmsen walked the bases loaded to start the unraveling, then gave up a two-run triple to Ryan Doumit — a native of Moses Lake — to end it.
“I didn’t throw much for strikes,” Wilhelmsen said. “Leadoff walks will get you every time. Then you walk the next two guys, you’re looking for trouble.”
Doumit’s one-out drive to the gap in right-center came on a fastball that Wilhelmsen described as “the only strike I threw. It was right down the middle. So if he misses, it’s a great pitch. But he knew what was coming and lit it up.”
Heading into the ninth, it had been a productive game for the Mariners under foreboding skies and late drizzles. Jason Bay provided most of the offense with his first two-homer game since July 5, 2011. Kyle Seager added a homer, Aaron Harang pitched six effective innings and three previous relievers held down the Twins as the Mariners built a 4-2 lead. Bay’s second homer in the seventh had broken a 2-2 tie.
“We were in the position we wanted to be in as we headed into the ninth,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Wilhelmsen had picked up a save the previous night. But ominously, he walked the leadoff hitter, Pedro Florimon, and then followed by walking Eduardo Escobar and Joe Mauer. Rookie Yoervis Medina was warming up, but Wedge stuck with Wilhelmsen.
“He gets the next guy out (Josh Willingham’s sacrifice fly), and if he gets a ground ball, the game’s over,” Wedge said. “I mean, he’s your closer. Otherwise, you’re going to go to a guy who has never been in that situation, for the closer.
“It’s just asking a lot from someone who hasn’t been in that situation. With closers, you live and die with them. He makes a pitch there and puts the ball on the ground, the game’s over, and we win. You’ve got to give him every opportunity.”
But Doumit jumped on a 2-2 pitch, sending the two runners sprinting around the bases, and sending the fans who braved the rain into delirium. Mauer scored all the way from first, easily beating the throw.
“Wilhelmsen’s one of the best,” Doumit said. “You could tell after the first two hitters that he faced today, he wasn’t sharp. So then we have the middle of the order up there, 2-3-4, we’re looking to get something to drive and we got it.”
Added Doumit, the Twins’ cleanup hitter Saturday on a day Justin Morneau sat out: “I was up there to do some damage. I was looking for one spot and a pitch I could drive, and I got it.”
But Doumit still wasn’t sure he had ended the game.
“It’s tough to score from first base in wet conditions,” he said. “It’s a testament to Joe. A lot of things had to go right, I felt, and it did.”
Not for the Mariners, however, who now have a new worry to add to their list: Closer. Wilhelmsen had converted his first 11 opportunities before his recent struggles.
“He’s going to have to get out there and put these things behind him, take whatever he can from it with regard to learning from it,” Wedge said. “We’ve been through it with closers before. You’re going to have some tough spots during the course of the season.”
The Mariners have now had six walkoff losses this year, tops in the majors, but arguably none as stunning as this one.
“It definitely hurt,” Bay said. “But they all do. That’s what we’re trying to do, get the ball to Tom in the ninth. Nothing is automatic. He’s one of the best, so you take your chances at the time. It’s something that happens.
“Those ones always feel like they sting a little more than the 10-nothing game where you’re down from the get-go. But it happens every day, and you have to keep coming back.”