With baseball season now entering the summer months, teams begin to take stock of every single win as they approach the All-Star break. The Mariners certainly had more reason to be proud after winning four of their last seven games in back-to-back series.
After having won two of three against the Orioles at home, the M’s good luck continued as they welcomed the Rays for a four-game homestand. The first match pitted together Rays ace righty James Shields, versus King Felix and his “royal court.” Hernandez had just come off a rare dismal performance against the Yankees, where he failed to record a strikeout count higher than his walk count (5-4); this game ended in a no-decision having gone extra frames, nonetheless ending in an ironic 5-4 victory for the M’s.
It was clear that court was definitely in session, as Hernandez fanned batter after batter, recording a total of 11 strikeouts, two walks, and giving up only one earned run, taking his ERA down to a low 3.04. This performance proved to be encouraging for the Mariners offense as well, as they put eight runs on the board. Most of the runs came off the bats of rookie LF Carlos Peguero, who went 2-4 with 2 HR (4) and 4 RBI (12), DH Jack Cust, who hit first ever HR in Safeco Field (2), and young gun 1B Justin “Super-Smoak” who hit his ninth HR of the season to score the M’s eighth run, thereby securing a sixth victory for King Felix by a score of 8-2.
By the time Saturday’s game rolled around, it appeared the M’s were not quite out of gas yet. This time, veteran left-hander Jason Vargas took the hill to square off against Andy Sonnanstine who was currently 0-1 with a 6.07 ERA. Similar to the preceding night’s performance on both offense and defense, the pitching recorded stellar numbers, while the offense once again put up numbers that were unheard of for the M’s the last few years.
Smoak continued to dazzle the Safeco crowd by sending a 379’ shot to right field, immediately putting the M’s on the board. Following this were three more runs in the third after some poor defense by the Rays, giving the M’s a solid 4-0 lead after three. By the fifth inning, it was once again, in the words of the late Dave Niehaus “a slugfest,” as Mariners C Miguel Olivo and 2B Adam Kennedy hit back to back HRs that gave a the Mariners a 7-0 lead. But once again, the M’s pitching hit all the right notes, as Vargas pitched a CG shutout pitching a total of 115 pitches with 4 K, and 1 BB. This victory marked the Mariners 13th win in their last 16 games, and put them to a record of 30-27, only 1.5 games back of the Texas Rangers in the AL West.
Hoping to continue this hot streak, the M’s called forth another young arm in the form of Doug Fister to face off against rookie Jeremy Hellickson. Unfortunately, the streak of luck would come to a halt after the M’s suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Rays by a score of 3-2. From the get-go, the Rays had the advantage as Hellickson utilized both his fastball, and utterly deceptive changeup to allow the M’s only two runs on four hits, both runs coming off a pinch-hit HR by Olivo in the eighth, while Fister came out rather shaky giving up all three runs on all seven hits, with all those runs being scored in the 2nd inning.
Finally, the series concluded with a duel featuring the M’s crafty left-hander Erik Bedard and Rays starter Wade Davis.
The game was a back and forth battle, as the Rays struck first blood in the 2nd and 3rd innings scoring three runs total on hits by C Kelly Shoppach, CF B.J. Upton, and 3B Felipe Lopez. These would be the only runs given up by Bedard all game, as he pitched seven complete innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. However, the Rays lead suddenly disappeared in the home half of the third, as the Mariners quickly racked up three runs of their own on a two-run triple by RF Ichiro Suzuki, and RBI squeeze-bunt by SS Brendan Ryan scoring Ichiro from third base. Two more runs were tacked for the M’s by another triple, this time off the bat of rookie OF Greg Halman, scoring both Kennedy and Peguero. On this note, manager Eric Wedge decided to bring in rookie reliever Jamey Wright to keep the Mariners fighting. Unfortunately, after back-to-back RBI doubles by 2B Ben Zobrist and RF Matt Joyce, and a RBI single by 3B Evan Longoria, the Rays regained control taking a 6-3 lead. In the end, it was a RBI single by Kennedy and a three-run HR by Olivo that clinched the final game of the series for the Mariners, taking them to 14 wins out of their last 17 games; a positive note to end on as they immediately departed for Chicago for a three game set against the White Sox.
After having lost the nine of the ten games played against the White Sox in 2010, and losing two of three in their first season series against them the Mariners looked to kick off the season battle on a strong note by sending rookie ace Michael Pineda to the bump against a currently winless John Danks. Pineda hoped to finally get another win after having received a no-decision against the Orioles where he went seven complete with seven strikeouts and only one walk allowed.
Unfortunately, the Mariners had a case of déjà-vu as the White Sox got on the board first after a towering home run by All-Star 1B Paul Konerko in the 3rd inning. This would remain the only run scored for about three more innings until the Sox struck again adding one more run in the 7th inning on a RBI single by 2B Gordon Beckham. The Mariners would cut the deficit in half in the 8th with an RBI single of their own off the bat of Ryan, but the effort was a moot point as another RBI single by C A.J. Pierzynski sealed victory number one for John Danks (1-8), while landing Pineda with his third loss of the season (6-3).
However, hope was on the horizon as the M’s would send Felix Hernandez to pitch the second game of the series against White Sox rookie Philip Humber. Once again though, the Mariners were thwarted early on as the team from South Chicago scored five runs off Hernandez, three of them off home runs by Konerko, and RF Carlos Quentin, and two on a strong two RBI triple by former Mariner SS Omar Vizquel. On the other side, Humber, while known more for his ability to throw curveballs for strikes utilized of all the pitches he had in his arsenal, and went a strong 7.2 IP with 5 K, 3 BB and only 1 ER, brining his ERA down to a low 2.87. Hernandez would be taken out after 6.2 IP, recording only 5 K, 2 BB, and 5 ER, shooting his ERA up to 3.29 on the season.
In the end, Wednesday would either mean a sweep for the team from Chi-Town, or a salvage victory for the M’s headed to Detroit. For the final matchup, Wedge once again called on Jason Vargas to go all out against veteran righty Gavin Floyd, who was hoping to keep the Mariners 10-game losing streak at U.S. Cellular Field alive.
Looking like a regular broken record, the White Sox came out swinging in the 1st inning with a deep homer to left field off of Quentin, giving them the early lead. From there, the tone of the game took the form of a pitcher’s duel, as both Vargas and Floyd kept dealing pitches that could not miss the gloves of the defense. However, that tone quickly changed in the top of the sixth when the Mariners scored on an RBI groundout from Kennedy, and then added two more runs on an RBI double from Franklin “Death to Flying Things” Gutierrez. After a White Sox RBI single by Beckham in the 7th inning that cut the M’s lead to one, Olivo gave some insurance with a deep HR to left field putting Seattle back up by two. But just when you thought the M’s would get the victory in nine, Quentin struck again when he hit a two-run HR to left-center, tying the game at four a piece. Finally, the M’s would put an end to their Chicago blues, as Olivo and Gutierrez once again stepped up and delivered by hitting a two-run double, and an RBI squeeze-bunt in extra innings respectively. In a postgame interview with the Associated Press, M’s manager Eric Wedge had this to say about Olivo’s reliability, “(Olivo) has always been a guy that’s gotten big hits… I’ve been on the other side against him for a lot of years and he’s a step-up kind of guy.” With three successive groundouts by the Sox, Mariners closer Brandon League recorded a much-needed win for the M’s in extras, as well as save #17.
The Mariners will continue their road-trip this afternoon in the Motor City as they play a three-game set against the Tigers. First pitch begins at 7:05 EDT (4:05 PDT), and will feature Tigers ace Justin Verlander (6-3, 3.04 ERA), against M’s young gun Doug Fister (3-6, 3.29 ERA).
Gameday information and game statistics courtesy of Major League Baseball online (http://mlb.mlb.com/index.jsp) and ESPN online (http://espn.go.com/mlb); Photography courtesy of Associated Press (http://www.apimages.com)
About the Author
Written by Chase Smith
Freelance/professional writer for stories in MLB, NBA, and NCAA (particular to teams in Pacfic Northwest/West Coast)