What a week for the Mariners! Facing the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers, the Mariners fared alright. The Orioles are in competition with the Yankees for the AL East first place spot — the Yankees are up now by a game, but the Orioles are major contenders. It’s funny because in Spring Training we had the highest batting average of any team in MLB; the Orioles were ranked 28th.
10-4 was the score of the M’s first game against the O’s — “Bird Bash” was part of the title on the MLB Gameday site. It sure was. Baltimore did most of their damage in the 1st and 2nd innings, scoring 3 and 4 runs, respectively. Starting pitcher Hector Noesi only made it 1 1/3 innings. “By the time the Mariners had their first at-bat, they trailed, 3-0,” said sportswriter Josh Liebeskind. Noesi even induced the Safeco crowd to some “boos.” He had 54 pitches in the outing.
Squad leader Eric Wedge said of Noesi—"He just really struggled. When he did get ahead, he gave up two-strike hits. Looked like he was just in the middle of the plate, they squared him up. [Hector] just has to be better than that. Just wasn't a good day at all for him." Wedge said he is thinking about taking him out of the rotation.
Former Mariners prospect Chris Tillman, who is now 4-0 versus the Mariners, pitched for the Orioles, and is really a firecracker for them. I expect him to go far in the playoffs. “Tilly is about the competition and whoever's wearing a uniform different than ours,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. We could have had him!
Offensively, Michael Saunders, Eric Thames, and John Jaso (2-run shot) homered for the Mariners.
The next night, the Mariners were up 2-0 until the bottom of the 9th when the Birds would come back to tie it. Thus, started one of the longest nights in baseball—an 18-inning game—one which the big, bad Birds won 4-2.
The Mariners struck out 18 times, and left 17 men in scoring position. Eric Wedge said, “I mean, we had so many opportunities. I mean, we had so many opportunities. One more hit and the game's over.” The Mariners also failed to get bunts down.
Starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez did a good job against the Orioles, going 8 innings of shut-out baseball—it wasn’t until the 9th inning that the O’s scored.
Miguel Olivo accounted for the Mariners 2 runs with a 2-run shot in the 4th. Hot-hitting centerfielder Saunders was ejected after arguing a called 3rd strike with 2 outs in the 10th, trying to get the job done for the M’s. Manager Wedge backed up his player, but the call stood.
And if 18 innings wasn’t enough the night before, the Mariners went an extra 2 again on Wednesday, losing again to the Orioles by 2 runs. I give credit to the Mariners for sticking with this powerhouse team, though. The Orioles have won 15 extra-inning games in a row.
Felix pitched in the game and only allowed 1 run in 8 innings. Power-hitter Adam Jones was the magic maker as he launched his 30th home run of the season in the 11th inning to give the O’s the 3-1 victory. The home run came off reliever Josh Kinney.
Offensively, the Mariners were 0-4 with runners in scoring position. Manager Wedge said, with somewhat of an allusion to next year’s needs, “We could have won last night and tonight, but we're 1 hit away both nights. Somebody has to step up and get it done.” He continued, “It's later in the year and we're playing teams that are all fighting for something.” We all want to be fighting for something next year. Here’s to hoping!
More words of wisdom come from Eric Wedge: "Bottom line, when you're not doing anything offensively, it just tightens the whole game up. It's tougher on the pitchers, it's tougher on you defensively, it's tougher on you from a mindset standpoint. That's the 1 area of our club that has to be better." So, where will we find our hitters?
Fernandez had 8 strikeouts in the contest. Of the game, he said, “Today my fastball was working and that makes my secondary pitches better."
Franklin Gutierrez hit a home run in the 4th.
Moving on to the next series, the Mariners were not disastrous against our familiar rival Texas. In their last home stand against the club, they finished 2-1, making them 9-10 on the season against last year’s World Series runner-up. Not too shabby.
The Mariners scored in 4 different innings, on their way to their first route against Texas. Ahead 4-3, they even tacked on 2 insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th to seal the deal. Hisashi Iwakuma pitched 7 innings, and gave up 3 runs, struck out 4 and walked no one.
Although a rookie here in the States, 31-yr-old Iwakuma has been pitching in Japan for some time. “Again, he's a veteran guy out there,” said Skipper Wedge. “He pitches like an experienced starting pitcher. He executes pitches, he understands different situations and what type of pitch he wants to throw depending on that.”
Carlos Triunfel, a 22-yr-old rookie who’s been up with the M’s in MLB since September 5th, got his first start in the game, and hit a tie-breaking double in the 4th and scored a run to give the Mariners a 4-2 lead. He also played well at shortstop.
"I thought Carlos played a good ballgame," said Wedge. "We had some big double plays there in the 8th and 9th, he made a nice play on a ball in the hole there, got a hit. I thought he played a good ballgame."
Justin Smoak, again playing well against his former team, accounted for the first run of the game. Smoak led of the 2nd with a scorching double down the left-field line, and was hit in by another double of the same caliber by starting right fielder Casper Wells. (Wells’ RBI broke a 0-22 skid for the Mariners with runners in scoring position). "We had some tough battles against the Orioles,” said Wells. “Some long battles, but it's nice to see us come through and get some run[s]."
The Mariners plated their second run after a Franklin Gutierrez triple, and score on a wild pitch. Then in the 4th, after Wells reached base on a single, Triunfel doubled, advanced on an infield out, and then scored on a fielding error by Rangers third baseman Michael Young. (Young is 2nd all-time in hits against the Mariners—2nd only to retired Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr.) Miguel Olivo capped the scoring with his second 2-run blast of the week in the 8th (his 12th) over the left field fence.
Closer Tom Wilhelmson came in, and with the added insurance runs, ran into limited trouble. After an error and a single, the Mariners turned a double play, and then Wilhelmson struck out the last batter. The win broke the M’s 4-game losing streak, and tied an 11-game home run streak from earlier in the season.
On the win, Wedge had some encouraging words to say about the state of his ball club: "As we continue to get better, and even obviously some of the tough losses we've had of late, we're for the most part right there. One play, 1 at-bat or 1 pitch away from winning those ballgames."
Game 2 was similar, as the M’s picked up their second win against the Rangers. It wasn’t quite the offensive battle as the night prior, but rather, a pitching duel. Texas native (and former Ranger) Blake Beavan started for the M’s, shutting out the Rangers for 7+ innings, only giving up 8 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 2. His record is now 10-10 on the season with a 4.64 ERA. Kinney (who recorded 2 strikeouts and induced a pop fly in the 8th with 2 runners on) and Wilhelmson came in to close out the shutout. It’s nice to have relievers to depend on! The Mariners ended up winning the nail-biter 1-0.
The Rangers started left hander Matt Harrison, who prior to the game had 10 straight wins against the M’s. Harrison has the 3rd most consecutive wins for any pitcher against Seattle in history. It was his first loss in 6 career starts at Safeco.
"We finally figured out a way to beat him," said left fielder Saunders, who hit the game-winning home run (his 17th) in the 2nd. It was the only home run that Harrison has given up in 45 2/3 innings at Safeco.
"I didn't really make a mistake," said Harrison. “It was where I wanted to be, but he got extension on it, got out there and got it. It's not the only mistake I made; it's the only one that cost me." Harrison got out of a bases-loaded, no outs jam in the 4th.
Beavan was sure happy to beat them. For his part, he worked out of leadoff hits in the first 3 innings. He also fielded a hard line drive off his foot, but was fine after the game, saying that “the ice is colder than the pain.” He continued, “I'm from there, I got traded by them, it means a lot to beat those guys." Beavan grew up in Irving, Texas, and was the Rangers' first-round pick in 2007. "That's the best-hitting team in baseball right there, hands down,” he said. “Every time you watch those guys, whether against us or somebody else, they're putting up runs left and right." In his first start of the season, Beavan lost a 1-0 duel to the Rangers. I guess you could say Saturday was his payback.
Rangers manager Ron Washington had this to say of Beavan: "Anytime a guy can stand up on that mound and stop us from putting runs on the board, I have to give him credit. He was pretty good." It was only the 5th time Texas has been shutout this season.
Good defense in the field also saved some runs. Like I said before, Wells can throw, and he made his presence known again in the 4th when he fired to cutoff man Kyle Seager to throw out Nelson Cruz trying to score from first on a double by David Murphy, who was hot-hitting for the Rangers.
On the win, even though it was a low-scoring game, Kinney, who participated in the shutout, said, “…[E]verybody is tickled.”
The Mariners weren’t so lucky in Game 3, as they lost a heartbreaker to Texas in the series finale. All the runs were scored on long balls, and the Mariners ended up losing 3-2. For a bright spot in the line-up, it was the 13th consecutive game (season high) in which the Mariners have hit at least 1 home run. The long balls are even spread out amongst the players, as shortstop Brendan Ryan hit his 3rd of the season and Thames, his 9th.
The Mariners went 0-5 with runners in scoring position in Game 3 and left 9 men on base. The Mariners have the lowest batting average of any team in MLB. We had an opportunity to take the season series away from the Rangers, though. Rangers manager Washington said of us: "Somebody is going to catch hell from that team before too much longer. I don't know if they play everybody like they play us, but they play us tough. They are growing and learning.”
For starting pitcher Jason Vargas’ part, he said, “I felt like I threw the ball well. Got out of some situations when I had to." Still, the long ball, which has been detrimental to Vargas all season, did him in. Mike Napoli and Geovany Soto hit back-to-back home runs (with only a walk in between), to put the Rangers on top, 3-0 in the 4th. That was enough for the win.
As we were held to just 2 runs in the 7th, manager Eric Wedge had this to say of Texas’ starting pitcher, veteran Ryan Dempster: “…[H]e knows how to get big league hitters out." Of the 4 hits he gave up over 7 innings to the Mariners, 2 went to Saunders, who continued to hit well.
With 9 games still to go in the season, Saunders has this message to send to the League: "We want to send the message that we don't quit. We took a big series off Texas... Maybe we can break some hearts, but we're just looking to win some ballgames."
Let’s hope they can stay competitive. The Mariners are next in action against the Angels and the A’s. Go get ‘em!