Lampkin Saves Mesa And Mariners With 9Th-Inning Homer To Beat Jays

No one ever blames a catcher when the pitcher gives up the game-winning hit. No one credits him, either, when the pitcher closes out the victory.

It's not just a thankless job, it's a blameless one as well. The catcher works as hard as the pitcher - calling the game, setting up the defense, signaling the pitches and handling about 150 throws a game. He goes through the same emotional highs and lows as the pitcher. He just masks it better.

"You're damn right we feel for (the pitchers)," said Lampkin, whose ninth-inning, two-run home run last night capped a spectacular finish in the Mariners' 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Three two-run home runs were hit in the final 1 2/3 innings - by Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr., Toronto's Carlos Delgado and Lampkin. Fortunately for Lampkin, his blast came last.

Jose Mesa had blown the save in the ninth. The Mariner closer was attempting to nail down his franchise-matching 33rd save after Griffey's 44th home run (394th of his career) put the Mariners ahead 2-1 in the eighth. Mesa got two quick outs before Shawn Green singled on a 2-2 pitch and Delgado hit his second homer of the game (42nd overall) for a 3-2 score.

"We care about the pitcher when they get hit or can't throw strikes, and we take pride when they threw well," Lampkin said. "I carry as much blame as Jose (Mesa) does."

Lampkin said the pitch to Delgado, a fastball catching the outer third of the plate, "was a pitch he (Mesa) likes. It might

have been a mistake pitch, but so many things could have happened, except the home run. Maybe we should have used an off-speed pitch there or an inside fastball. But that's hindsight."

Even though Lampkin called the pitch, Mesa, having blown his fifth save opportunity, heard the boos and carried the blame into the dugout as the Mariners headed into their half of the ninth. The M's simply had to duplicate what they had done in the eighth against Bllue Jay closer Billy Koch, who throws 100 mph.

Jay Buhner, hitting just .232 with 85 strikeouts in 68 games, was the first Seattle batter in the ninth.

"I knew I would take the first pitch," he said. "Then I would look at one (second) pitch to get my timing down at 100 miles per hour. Then I would try to make contact with one (third pitch)."

Buhner walked on four pitches as Koch couldn't come close.

Lampkin had an opportunity to make up for Mesa's mistake, a rare chance to dig his pitcher out of the hole. But he also was motivated by his previous at-bat failure in the seventh. The first two batters in that inning reached base on singles. Manager Lou Piniella eschewed the bunt, allowing Lampkin, a good fastball hitter, to go for the hit against Roy Halladay, a fastball pitcher. Lampkin fouled out to third base, and the Mariners didn't score in the inning.

"I was sitting in the dugout waiting to get another at-bat (in the ninth)," Lampkin said. "I figured I couldn't screw up any more than I had. I'm glad Lou had confidence in me."

Lampkin, with the count 1-2 in his first-ever at-bat against Koch, somehow caught up to a fastball and dropped it two rows into the right-field seats for his seventh home run, equaling his career high.

"That was a huge hit at 100 mph," Buhner said. "That's pretty impressive, to pull it like that. We give two and we take two. I feel for Mesa."

Lampkin's homer marked the 40th time in the team's 23-year history that a Mariner player hit a game-winning home run in the final at-bat. It's the first time since Aug. 5, 1997, when Russ Davis did it.

"Junior had a clutch home run. Lampkin had a clutch home run. Delgado had a clutch home run," Piniella said. "All in an inning and a half."

The loss was crushing to the Blue Jays, who had a 25-minute players-only team meeting afterward. They had a chance to gain on wild-card-leading Boston, which lost to Oakland, but remain 5 1/2 games behind. Seattle is 8 1/2 behind.

"We have to get on the same page. Everyone wants to win. Obviously, that's our goal," Halladay said of the team meeting. "We don't want to go home and feel like we came up short."

The only negative for the Mariners was that starter Jamie Moyer, who threw a marvelous game, didn't get the win. He allowed one run on six hits, walking none and striking out three in his eight-inning, 85-pitch outing. He was on record to win had Griffey's dramatic home run held up. Instead, Mesa (2-5) picked up his second victory.