DENVER – If any team in baseball needed a three-day weekend in Colorado, it was the Seattle Mariners, who now must determine if hitting, pitching – and winning – flew home with them.
The Mariners limped into this series having lost six of seven games, then swept the Colorado Rockies, capping that with a 6-4 victory Sunday that came down to Brandon League’s final pitch.
Seattle won all three games with an efficient combination of power, starting pitching and seamless bullpen work.
Which begged the question: Who were these guys, and where had they been in, say, New York, Boston and Cleveland?
“A work in progress,” first baseman Justin Smoak said, of himself and the team. “We’re going up there looking for a good pitch to hit – not the pitcher’s pitch – and if we don’t get it, we take.
“That’s what good hitters do, and we’re learning that as a team.”
Smoak was one of three Mariners to homer against Colorado’s Jeremy Guthrie, with the home runs accounting for four of Seattle’s six runs.
The other runs? They came in the first inning, when manager Eric Wedge called for a two-out double steal with runners on first and third.
“We hadn’t practiced that since spring training,” said Kyle Seager, the runner at first. “But we’d talked about (it). Dustin (Ackley) and I were in college together so we were on base a lot. He was always at third.”
When Guthrie delivered, Seager delayed a half beat and took off. The throw to second was high, and Ackley beat a wild throw home to score the first run.
“We want to be aggressive from the time the game starts,” Wedge said. “We wanted to jump out, get that first run on the board. Seager and Ackley did a great job.”
Jesus Montero followed with an RBI single and Seattle had a 2-0 lead.
The Mariners’ long balls came from hitters capable of hitting them anywhere – Montero and Smoak, back-to-back in the third inning, and Mike Carp in the sixth.
Power played a part, obviously, but so did a weapon Seattle hasn’t used often. Patience.
Against Jeremy Guthrie, the Mariners took pitches that seemed to frustrate the right-hander. As his frustration rose, so did Guthrie’s pitches.
Montero crushed his home run with a man on and two outs in the second, hitting it deep into the stands beyond left field, his team-leading sixth of the season.
Smoak followed by hitting a Guthrie pitch over the out of town scoreboard in right field, his fifth.
“Jesus was looking for a pitch and took a few until he got a fastball up and he killed it,” Smoak. “I took a couple pitches and got a fastball up, too. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Two innings later, after the Rockies pulled to 5-2, Carp hammered his fourth home run – and his third in 23 at-bats on this trip.
“You see guys starting to come around, approaches at the plate improving, results improving,” Wedge said.
There were times when starter Blake Beavan seemed on the verge of aiding and abetting the Rockies, and the worst of those was in the fifth inning. After Eric Young singled, Beavan failed – for the second time in the game – to watch the baserunner.
Young stole second.
When Beavan got a double-play grounder from Marco Scutaro, there was no double play to get. As bad, with two outs he hit shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with an errant fastball.
Two on, two out and the left-handed hitting Todd Helton at the plate with a 5-2 lead?
Beavan might have buckled but did not, and struck out Helton on a 94 mph fastball that might have been aided by the mile-high air.
“My command still wasn’t what I wanted, but it was better,” Beavan said. “I wanted to keep pitching – every starter does – but I understood. In this park, the game can change quickly. It was time to get new pitching in, and it worked.”
It was the last out Beavan would get. He batted with two outs in the fifth inning and flied out. On the mound, he gave up a leadoff single to Michael Cuddyer to open the sixth inning and was pulled in favor of Shawn Kelley.
From that moment on, the Mariners got the final 12 outs with a series of short-relief appearances.
Kelley went 1 innings, Charlie Furbush one inning and Tom Wilhelmsen 2/3 of an inning – which got Seattle to the ninth inning with a 6-2 lead intact.
League, who’d blown an 11th-inning save in his last appearance, gave up a pinch-hit home run to Dexter Fowler.
The Rockies followed that with consecutive singles from Eric Young, pinch-hitter Jason Giambi and Carlos Gonzalez to make it 6-4 with two on and one man out.
League got a ground ball but when second baseman Dustin Ackley was taken out by a hard slide, his throw to first base bounced, and Smoak couldn’t hold it for the game-ending double play.
League finished it by striking out first baseman Helton, who represented the winning run at the plate.
“The two pitches before were high and away because I was rushing,” League said. “I told myself to relax, take my time and I threw a much better pitch.”email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners