OAKLAND – They re-opened their season on U.S. soil Friday, but none of the Seattle Mariners felt more at home than Chone Figgins – who was booed loudly during introductions.
More loudly, even, than he was throughout most of 2011 at Safeco Field.
If Figgins puts together a few more nights like the Mariners’ 7-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics, Seattle fans might greet him with an ovation next week.
“Figgy was working the count, being aggressive in the right spots,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan, who had two hits. “He was giving us opportunities, and we took advantage of a few of them.”
Figgins had three hits, scored once, stole a base and had two RBI as the Seattle offense rattled off 13 hits to back the pitching of Jason Vargas and three relievers.
Given the opportunity to lead off in the Mariners’ great experiment, Figgins turned Seattle’s third game of the season into a tour de force. While it may be a bit early to say “as Figgins goes, so go the Mariners,” he had a good night.
He wasn’t alone.
“The key to the game tonight might have been Kyle Seager’s two-out knock in the fourth inning,” Ryan said.
With the Mariners leading 2-0 with two outs and runners on first and third, Ichiro stole second – and Seager singled hard up the middle for a 4-0 lead.
“Those kind of hits are separators,” manager Eric Wedge said. “You get a chance to do damage with two outs, you change games with hits there.
“We had a number of guys put up tough at-bats tonight, but that was huge.”
The Mariners got solid starting pitching in Japan but split the two games when they didn’t score enough runs – reminding fans of a two-year offensive plague.
On Friday, they beat Oakland ace Brandon McCarthy with a four-run third inning that included three hits, an error, a walk and a sacrifice fly.
No one will confuse that with the ’27 Yankees, but four runs? The Mariners struggled to get four in a game last year.
Ryan started the rally with a double, and when Figgins dropped a bunt, he was credited with a sacrifice – but Ryan scored when third baseman Josh Donaldson hit Figgins with his throw.
Jesus Montero picked up an RBI with a fly ball, and the key came with two out after Ichiro stole second base to put runners on second and third.
Seager then got his big hit for a four-run lead.
Seattle tacked on runs in the fourth inning – a Figgins RBI single – and in the sixth, when Figgins bunted for a hit, scoring Michael Saunders, and Ichiro picked up another on a sacrifice fly.
Vargas, meanwhile, pitched effectively through the Oakland lineup, facing only 10 hitters in the first three innings, needing just 38 pitches.
“I didn’t change much from the first time I faced them in Tokyo,” Vargas said. “I probably threw more changeups, and my cutter wasn’t quite as sharp.”
After a two-out fourth-inning walk to Johnny Gomes, however, he let a cutter slide over the heart of the plate for Cuban rookie outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Remember the name.
His second home run of the season – his first came in Japan – nearly got to the suites beyond left-center field, a massive blow that hypnotized the man who hit it an estimated 462 feet.
Cespedes watched it go, then tossed the bat and went into his trot. He could be forgiven for watching this one. He’d best not watch them all.
When a Vargas throwing error turned a double play into a first-and-second-with-no-one-out jam, he got Gomes for one out, but was pulled by Wedge before Cespedes got to the plate again.
“I had all the time in the world to start that double play and I just threw it away,” Vargas said. “The guys in the bullpen did a great job.”
Instead of the lefty, Cespedes got right-hander Steve Delabar and his 95 mph fastball. On three pitches, Delabar struck him out.
Delabar went 12/3 innings, Tom Wilhelmsen worked the eighth inning and Brandon League the ninth; together they held the Athletics to one run over the final 32/3 innings.
“Delabar really picked us up getting us through the sixth and seventh innings,” Wedge said.
What worked best, however, was that offense, which took advantage of some sloppy play by Oakland and kept tacking on runs.
Now 2-1, the Mariners have Felix Hernandez on deck to pitch. With four games awaiting them in Texas starting Monday, Seattle would dearly love to get there with a 3-1 record.
Another seven runs ought to do it.
Seattle (Felix Hernandez: 0-0, 1.13 ERA) at Oakland (Bartolo Colon: 1-0, 1.13), 6:05 p.m., Root Sports, 710-AM