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A game that featured one of the least-celebrated home runs in recent Mariner history at Safeco Field also turned into one of the least-celebrated victories by the team itself.

Michael Saunders hit one of two solo home runs to back up some fantastic pitching by Hisashi Iwakuma and lift Seattle to a 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night in front of 18,562 spectators.

But Saunders’ seventh-inning homer remained in question until he had rounded the bases and gotten to the dugout as no one knew for sure if Minnesota center fielder Sam Fuld — who hit the wall and crumbled to the ground — had caught the ball.

“That’s a tough play that Sam makes more often than you’d think,’’ said Saunders.

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Saunders said he didn’t know for sure it was a homer until the umpires ruled it as one after he was already in the dugout. That led to a muted reaction from the crowd, which also was kept in suspense.

The clubhouse afterward was likewise more somber than might be expected after a victory due to the news that the team had released backup catcher and popular veteran John Buck. It is expected that the Mariners will call up catcher Jesus Sucre, who is hitting .281 with Tacoma.

“Listen, these things are never fun,’’ Mariner manager Lloyd McClendon said of the release of Buck, on his 34th birthday. “John Buck is a fine baseball player and I think he has been great for this club, and a wonderful individual. We’ve got a catcher in Triple A who is turning the corner and doing a pretty darn good job. We will announce that tomorrow, but we just felt it was time. So we think this move makes us a better club.’’

All they really needed Monday was the pitching of Iwakuma, who continued his mastery of the Twins.

Iwakuma (7-4) allowed just four hits in pitching seven scoreless innings. He has not allowed an earned run in 332/3  innings against the Twins (he has allowed two unearned runs), having won each of his five starts against Minnesota.

“You know what? The guy’s got great stuff,’’ said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “It doesn’t matter how many times you face great pitchers — there’s a reason they have good records and good ERAs because they have good stuff.’’

Iwakuma also struck out 10, while not allowing a walk in throwing 105 pitches. He struck out at least one in each inning in what was the third time he has had 10 or more strikeouts in a game.

Seattle’s bullpen then finished up the final two innings, with Fernando Rodney increasing his AL-leading save total to 26.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or

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