ARLINGTON, Texas – Three outs from a loss that would have been difficult to forget, the Seattle Mariners produced a victory they may remember all season.
After being shut out 23 consecutive innings – since the second inning on Monday – the Mariners got one run in the eighth inning and then three in the ninth to stun the Texas Rangers, 4-3.
Comebacks don’t get much more improbable.
“Playing a team that’s one of the favorites in the American League, our pitchers did a hell of a job the last two nights,” outfielder Michael Saunders said. “We just proved when we play our game, we can play with anybody.”
After losing 1-0 on Tuesday, the Mariners trailed by that same score through six innings a night later, when Kevin Millwood held Texas in check – while Colby Lewis was shutting down Seattle.
Then in the seventh, back-to-back two-out home runs by Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus put the Rangers up, 3-0.
It would have been tough to find anyone in the crowd of 32,942 who doubted the outcome at that point.
Even after John Jaso tripled leading off the eighth inning, and Dustin Ackley singled him home, Seattle still trailed 3-1, and Rangers closer Joe Nathan was ready for the ninth.
The Mariners hadn’t had an inning like that ninth in 2012 – but they’ve got one now.
“We weren’t giving away at-bats, they were pitching well against us,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We kept fighting through it, and that was a heck of a ninth inning for these kids.
“We snatched it back – and held on.”
Justin Smoak singled to open the ninth inning and Kyle Seager doubled him to third base and was replaced by pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki.
Jesus Montero, making his first start behind the plate, fell behind in the count, 0-2, then hit a fly ball that scored Smoak and got Kawasaki to third base.
“I tried to stay calm and wait for a pitch I could do something with,” Montero said. “He gave me a fastball, and I got a run home.”
That brought up Saunders, who’d doubled earlier but had been quiet in this series. His second double of the night tied the game at 3. And then he stole third base.
“Nathan had a high leg kick and I thought if I timed it right, I could take third,” Saunders said.
On the bench, Wedge was all for it.
“Saunders is a complete player, a total player,” Wedge said. “He’s gotten big hits for us this week, he’s aggressive on the bases and he’s heady – he has a good feel.”
With two outs and Saunders at third, Jaso singled home the go-ahead run.
“That was a pretty good debut,” Jaso said, beaming. “I’m just so happy to be part of this team. The first few at-bats tonight, I had too much adrenaline working, so I came back to the cage and worked some off.
“In the ninth inning, I thought like a catcher. I knew Nathan had a base open and didn’t have to throw me a strike. I waited. He made a mistake – and I was ready.”
From there, it was Brandon League’s game, and the Mariners closer picked up his third save despite allowing a baserunner. By doing so, he got rookie Lucas Luetge his first major league win in just his second big-league appearance.
Coming in Texas, that was good news and bad for Luetge.
“My parents and family are here but I sent my wife home so she could fly to Seattle,” Luetge said. “I’m going to get an earful on the telephone tonight for that.”
For Millwood, there was satisfaction in six solid innings despite a wobbly first, when he allowed a run but struck out David Murphy with the bases loaded.
“It was all mechanical in the first, and after that I was fine,” he said. “There’s always something to fix.”
And watching from the bench as the Mariners came back for their fourth win in seven games?
“That was huge,” Millwood said. “To fight back and win a game here, against this club? For a young club like this, that builds a little confidence, gives you a little reassurance.”
“It says a lot about this team,” Wedge said. “We fought last night and came up short and we kept fighting tonight.”
Luetge, surrounded by his family and friends outside the clubhouse, couldn’t take the grin off his face.
“This is what you dream of – seeing your name in the box score with a ‘W’ next to it,” he said. “That ninth inning was really intense.”
Now 4-3, the win means the worst the Mariners can do is get home for the first time this season at .500, and if they beat Texas today to split the series, it might well be a statement – both to the Rangers and the Mariners own fans.
“We’re a good team,” Saunders said.