MINNEAPOLIS -- This is why the Minnesota Twins were willing to give Joe Nathan so much money. Their choice not to trade him has proven to be prescient -- and particularly beneficial for this pennant race.
Earning his 33rd save with four pressure-filled outs against the free-swinging Seattle Mariners, Nathan helped the Twins hang on for a too-close-for-comfort 11-8 victory and a three-game sweep by leaving the bases loaded in the eighth and the ninth.
"You see why they pay him what they do and why they want him around," said starter Glen Perkins, who watched an 8-0 lead nearly vanish in a four-run sixth inning when the Mariners homered three times.
Nathan signed a four-year, $47 million deal, plus a club option for a fifth, after many observers assumed he would follow Johan Santana and Torii Hunter out of Minnesota while the Twins tried to rebuild.
Instead, the All-Star closer is a big reason they're a surprising playoff contender.
Nathan got Ichiro Suzuki to ground out to end the game. In the eighth, the right-hander struck out Adrian Beltre to end that threat.
"Wow! I grew a beard there in that game," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said, having a hard time believing his team had swept the series.
Jason Kubel had four hits and scored four runs and Justin Morneau homered and drove in two runs for the Twins, who stayed tied for first place in the AL Central with the Chicago White Sox.
Leads were not safe in this series, though, even against a Mariners team long out of contention. They've got plenty of good hitters, as they reminded the rather weary Twins.
"You win ugly sometimes," said Perkins, who lost a large early lead at Seattle two weeks ago in an 11-6 loss.
In six games against Minnesota this year, the Mariners have scored 39 runs -- with a whopping 30 of those coming from the sixth inning on.
"We're not going to bow down to anybody the way we've hit the ball the last three weeks," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "You can sense it, that the other club knows they've got their hands full when they play us."
The problem has been pitching.
"If it's not one thing, it's another," Riggleman said.
After starter Ryan Feierabend's first major league appearance of the season lasted only three innings, four relievers combined to throw 131 pitches over the final six frames as the Mariners stumbled to their seventh loss in eight games.
Knuckleballing reliever R.A. Dickey matched a major league record by throwing four wild pitches in an inning, and Seattle never got closer than two runs.
Minnesota's Boof Bonser gave up two runs in the seventh, making it 10-6. Struggling setup man Matt Guerrier, who had been held out of the last three games for a mental break, started the eighth and was charged with two runs after giving up two walks and a double.
Guerrier has given up 21 hits and 16 runs over 11 innings in 14 appearances since the All-Star break.
"We're going to need him," Gardenhire said. "He's just going to have to keep going back out there. He's just going to have to fight through it and make better pitches."
Dennys Reyes allowed a pair of infield singles, leaving the bases loaded. Then Nathan fanned Beltre by getting him to reach for an 89 mph slider.
Nathan gave up a one-out double to Wladimir Balentien in the ninth and walked Kenji Johjima, but Bryan LaHair flied out. Pinch-hitter Jeff Clement reached on an infield single, bringing the potential winning run -- Ichiro -- to the plate.
"These guys swing the bats," Nathan said.
Perkins (10-3) improved to 8-1 in his last 14 starts, capping a memorable week for the left-hander. His wife gave birth to their second a daughter last weekend, and he followed that by throwing eight shutout innings in a win over the New York Yankees on Monday.
Perkins was on his way to another long outing, the type the Twins' overexposed bullpen has been in need of, until the humbling sixth. He finished the inning, but the eight-run lead was halved after Beltre, Balentien and Johjima took him deep. Beltre's homer, his 20th, followed a single by Raul Ibanez and landed about 20 rows up in left.
"You never feel like you're out of the game. Riggleman has a lot to do with it," said Ibanez, who went 5-for-5.
Feierabend (0-1) finished the third inning, but only when Adam Everett was out trying to stretch a single -- he slid too far past second base. After going 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 13 starts for Triple-A Tacoma, Feierabend allowed 10 hits and six runs in a disappointing audition for 2009.
"All I can say is, welcome back to the big leagues," Feierabend said.