The way Luke French was pitching, the Seattle Mariners didn’t need much offense Sunday – a good thing, since they didn’t have much.
A day after being shut out on two hits, the Mariners were being shut out again until they punched home two seventh-inning runs to beat the Minnesota Twins, 2-1, and avoid a three-game sweep.
“Pitching, defense and timely hitting,” French said, beaming.
That wins games, but try doing it with just the first two – as, say, Doug Fister did Saturday in losing, 1-0. Or as Seattle starting pitchers have been doing all season.
“It gets tough when you’re not scoring to be patient at the plate,” Franklin Gutierrez said. “In the seventh, we were patient – Jose Lopez, Casey Kotchman and me all got hits …”
Those three singles tied the game and put up Seattle’s first run since Friday. Adam Moore came up thinking about driving the ball, hitting something hard to get a second run home.
And hit a ground ball to shortstop.
“I have no speed, but I knew I had to beat the throw and avoid the double play,” Moore said. “It helped that the ball wasn’t hit that hard. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it worked.”
After French pitched the first seven innings – and the Mariners grabbed a one-run lead – manager Daren Brown went to his bullpen. Brandon League worked the eighth inning, David Aardsma the ninth and Seattle made it look easy in front of 28,923 at Safeco Field.
“The last two games we’ve pitched really well,” Brown said. “Fister gave up one run (Saturday), French a run today. This time, we were able to reward that pitching.”
Just as Jason Vargas and Fister forced their way into the rotation early this season, French has proven he should be considered a candidate for the Mariners next year.
Obtained last year in the Jarrod Washburn trade with Detroit, French arrived as a soft-throwing lefty who admitted he was a bit lost. It showed, and he finished 2009 with a 6.63 earned run average.
This season, he went to Tacoma and became a Pacific Coast League All-Star, which got him a second chance in Seattle.
What he’s done is use all his pitches, including an 89 mph fastball.
“Today, the change-up wasn’t as effective as it has been, but I was able command the fastball, the slider, and work off those,” French said. “I was able to execute the pitch when I had to have an out.”
The one glaring mistake came in top of the seventh inning, when he fell behind Michael Cuddyer, and threw a high 3-0 fastball.
“He didn’t give in, and Cuddyer didn’t miss it,” catcher Moore said of the solo homer. “One mistake in seven innings? He was pitching great.”
Often, that isn’t enough for Seattle. This time?
Lopez singled up the middle to open the bottom of the seventh inning, Kotchman singled him to second base and Twins starter Carl Pavano – a 15-game winner – wild pitched both runners up a base.
“I knew I had to get at least one run in and tie it up,” Gutierrez said. “When I hit the ball, I thought it was 50-50 whether it would be caught.”
He did, singling softly in front of a charging Delmon Young in left field. With runners at first and third base and one out, Moore grounded to short. Gutierrez took out second baseman Orlando Hudson with a tough slide and the Mariners had a lead.
With two outs in the eighth, J.J. Hardy singled and Minnesota went to its hole card – pinch hitter Joe Mauer.
“We knew he was over there,” Brown said. “But we trust League against anyone.”
Mauer grounded out. Aardsma gave up a single in the ninth, then got a game-ending double play for his 25th save of the season.
Afterward, Brown praised his pitching but, given how rarely he’s had the opportunity, raved about that seventh-inning rally.
“In a one-run game, every hit is big,” he said. “You get a couple of runs, a win, it picks up the whole clubhouse.”
French gave what could have been an Emmy acceptance speech, thanking nearly everyone on the team – and defending the 51-79 Mariners.
“That’s a good team, a good pitching staff we faced,” he said of the Twins, “but we’re a good pitching staff, too. Adam (Moore) called a great game and threw out a man at third. We got timely hitting today, great defense and our bullpen has been great all year.”
For the month of August, the Mariners are 12-13 – this after going 6-22 in July. Imagine if they’d scored, like, two runs a game