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Originally published September 29, 2012 at 4:33 PM | Page modified September 29, 2012 at 8:59 PM

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A's rally with late homers as Mariners blow 4-1 lead

September can be the harshest of months for young relief pitchers, and the Mariners have tasted plenty of that on this road trip. But not as painfully as they did in a 7-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday afternoon in a game the Mariners appeared in control of most of the way.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Watching the late-inning blasts clear the outfield wall was a stark reminder that even the best part of this Mariners team is vulnerable to the drawbacks of youth.

September can be the harshest of months for young relief pitchers, and the Mariners have tasted plenty of that on this road trip. But not as painfully as they did in a 7-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday afternoon in a game the Mariners appeared in control of most of the way.

Jason Vargas had carried a three-run lead into the eighth inning, and then a strong defensive play enabled the Mariners to still be up by two heading to the ninth. But then a tying two-run homer off Tom Wilhelmsen and a decisive three-run blast an inning later off Stephen Pryor continued Seattle's losing ways in what's been a difficult month all around.

"They've got good momentum, they're playing like a good ballclub, and they've gotten some timely hits," Pryor said of the A's, who moved 2 ½ games up in the second wild-card race after the Los Angeles Angels were rained out in Texas.

The Mariners had only five hits all day, but a two-run homer by Michael Saunders and a solo shot by Kyle Seager, both in the fourth inning off A's starter Dan Straily, put Seattle up 4-1 until the eighth.

But a big reason the A's engaged in a wild victory celebration at home plate — egged on by 21,517 fans at the Coliseum — as the Mariners trudged off the field was two walks at key moments. In Wilhelmsen's case, his one-out walk to Josh Reddick in the ninth enabled Josh Donaldson to come up and hit a tying homer.

Then, with one on and one out, Pryor replaced Oliver Perez and moved the winning run into scoring position in the 10th when he walked Yoenis Cespedes on four pitches. Brandon Moss then drilled a first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall to clinch the A's 90th win of the season.

"That's what happened with me last night and today as well, walking the first guy," Pryor said. "It always hurts you."

Pryor said it wasn't a case of his being too amped up against the first batter he faces coming into a game.

"It's maybe a little bit of a lack of focus with the first hitter," he said. "And then, maybe just trying to groove one in there to get ahead against the second hitter. Things you can't get away with at this level."

Wilhelmsen threw only four pitches in the eighth inning and despite giving up a two-out, run-scoring double, said he felt he was executing pitches. The Mariners got him out of trouble when right fielder Casper Wells fired a strike to cutoff man Dustin Ackley, who nabbed Stephen Drew trying to score from first.

In the ninth, Wilhelmsen opened with a strikeout on a nasty curveball and seemed to have good command. But it deserted him on the ensuing four-pitch walk to Reddick and then the 0-1 homer by Donaldson.

The Mariners have had one of the better bullpens in the league despite all of their youth and relative inexperience. They entered this road trip with the league's third-best mark at preventing inherited runners from scoring and have a plethora of arms with above-average strikeout rates.

But younger arms are susceptible to command issues this time of year, largely because the innings workload is heavier and more intense at this level than anything the pitchers are used to. Wilhelmsen has had bouts with command troubles since August, while Charlie Furbush walked two batters at a key point in Friday's series-opening loss.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge has made it a point to monitor his young relievers as the season winds down so as not to overwork them.

"What hurts us is that leadoff walk," Wedge said of Wilhelmsen. "Now you bring the tying run into the game and then he hung a breaking ball. His stuff's good. That's the type of closer that we want and he's going to be. It just didn't work out for us today."

Wedge had left-hander Lucas Luetge warmed and could have used him to face left-handed hitting Moss. But he stuck with Pryor, wanting to save Luetge in case he needed him to face Reddick a couple of batters later.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @gbakermariners

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