CLEVELAND – For the time it took a baseball to travel some 370 feet in the air Sunday, the Seattle Mariners were filled with the dread that perhaps their stellar opening to the second half of the season might lose some of its luster.
In that brief time, it appeared that Victor Martinez might postpone, if not take away, what should have been a four-game series win for the Mariners in Cleveland.
Martinez did what few have done this season – square up a David Aardsma fastball and hit it a long way. And with Shin-Soo Choo on first, a home run would have been enough to erase Seattle’s two-run lead.
But as Martinez rounded first and stared out to right field, hoping to begin his home run trot, he instead watched Ichiro Suzuki leap at the wall and rip the ball out of the sky for the final out of the Mariners’ 5-3 win over the Indians at Progressive Field.
Replays did not conclusively show that Martinez’s shot would have cleared the wall, but Ichiro’s great grab nonetheless secured the victory and a series win as Seattle took three in a row from the reeling Indians to improve to 49-43 and keep pace in the American League West race.
“To lose the first game here and come back and win three straight,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I don’t care who it’s against or where, it shows again the character of the ballclub and the fight in it.”
So was Wakamatsu worried that his team might have blown the lead when Martinez hit his shot to right?
“I didn’t look,” he admitted. “You look at the reaction of the hitter, and I think he thought he got it. I actually didn’t see the catch.”
Aardsma did see it and raised his hands in celebration as Ichiro came down with the ball. He then bear-hugged Ichiro as the team shook hands afterward.
“(Martinez) is a decent hitter and right off the bat I thought it was out, but you never know with Ichiro back there,” Aardsma said. “Obviously, he can cover a lot of ground and (Martinez) just didn’t get enough of it, and Ichiro made a great play on it. He made an awesome play.”
Though Wakamatsu didn’t watch it, he never lost hope that Ichiro would catch it.
“You always feel comfortable with him in right field that he’s going to make a great catch or climb the wall,” Wakamatsu said. “It was awfully nice he came up with it.”
Ichiro was typically sardonic about the catch. When he was first asked to go through the play, he joked through his interpreter Ken Baron: “There was a runner on first, there was a fly ball and I caught it.”
But later he conceded that he was going to do everything he could to make the catch.
“The only thing that was in my mind as soon the ball made contact with the bat was to catch it,” he said. “Just like a dog chasing after a Frisbee.”
While Ichiro joked and downplayed his efforts, Aardsma wasn’t about to let it go without plenty of compliments.
“For him to make that catch in that situation, it wins the game,” he said. “It doesn’t come bigger than that.”
While the end was a highlight, the actual game-winning run wasn’t quite as eventful.
With the game tied at 3 in the eighth, Franklin Gutierrez led off with a single to left. Rob Johnson then worked a walk after falling behind 0-2, giving Seattle runners on first and second with no outs. Wakamatsu went into small-ball mode, having Ryan Langerhans sacrifice bunt to move the runners in scoring position. Despite a drawn-in infield, Langerhans did his job, and pinch-hitter Jack Hannahan hit a fly ball deep enough to right for Gutierrez to tag up and score.
“It’s nice when we can execute those things,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s something we’ve worked on.”
A one-run lead probably would have been enough for the Mariners’ bullpen to hold. They would not allow a run all game. But Seattle loaded the bases in the ninth with no outs and scraped out a run when former Tacoma Rainier Asdrubal Cabrera bobbled a sure double-play ball with one out.
“Anytime you take one run to two runs, or two to three is a huge momentum shift,” said Aardsma, who picked up 23rd save of the season.
Early on it appeared that the Mariners would turn the game into a laugher, scoring three first-inning runs on Cleveland starter Aaron Laffey. Russell Branyan ripped his 23rd homer of the season – a two-run shot to right – and Gutierrez later hit an RBI single to give Seattle an early lead.
But those three runs would be all the Mariner would get until the eighth.
“All of the sudden we went flat, I though Laffey did a good job to get deep in the ball game,” Wakamatsu said.
Seattle starter Erik Bedard made it through 42/3 innings. He gave up a two-run homer to Ben Francisco in the second, and then was chased in the fifth when Jose Lopez booted a two-out ground ball to allow the tying run to score.
“Not to make any excuses, but that ball had a lot of spin on it,” Lopez said.
From there, the bullpen took over and kept the Indians scoreless, allowing the Mariners to rally and win the series.
“To come back and win the series and take three out of four and take that into Detroit is big,” Aardsma said. “(Detroit) got us the first time, let’s get them this time.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483