CHICAGO – What began with a little drama – Ichiro Suzuki’s 37th career leadoff home run – ended 4 hours and 16 minutes later with Hisashi Iwakuma nailing down a 12th-inning save.
In between, there were home runs, an impressive major league debut and gritty pitching.
And when it was over, the Seattle Mariners snapped a nine-game winning streak by the Chicago White Sox, ending that with a 10-8 victory that was as entertaining as any game this season.
“We’re in the process of defining what kind of team we are, what kind of team we’re going to be,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said, sounding for all the world like a proud uncle.
He had reason to be, along with every Mariners fan who could watch, listen or read about this one. What made it special?
• Ichiro hitting a home run leading off the game and then again leading off the third inning – his second and third homers of the season.
• Tom Wilhelmsen pitching a career-high three innings – the ninth, 10th and 11th – to earn his second win of the season.
• Michael Saunders helping erase the memory of a Friday error with four hits, including a two-run homer.
• Rookie reliever Stephen Pryor, making his big-league debut, facing Paul Konerko with two outs and two men on base and striking him out with pitches that registered 100 mph.
• An eighth-inning steal of third base by Brendan Ryan, who scored the go-ahead run on a wild throw from catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
There was more, from Justin Smoak’s 10th home run to Iwakuma’s second save in three games.
When this one was over, the Mariners had used every available arm in their bullpen and had only one position player – Alex Liddi – remaining on their bench.
“Every pitcher we had got a little work in, and we swung the bats pretty well, too,” said John Jaso, whose 12th-inning double scored pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki with the go-ahead run.
“I faced the same pitcher (Addison Reed on Friday) and he struck me out. My approach in that situation? Don’t strike out,” Jaso deadpanned.
What began as an old-fashioned slugfest – the Mariners hit four home runs, the White Sox four – turned into dueling bullpens, and Seattle simply would not lose.
The Mariners forged leads of 2-0, 3-2, 5-3, fell behind 7-5, then led 8-7. And then in the eighth inning, the White Sox tied it again.
Pryor worked 1 innings, striking out two men, flashing 100 mph heat, but left a slider up that Dayan Viciedo turned into his 12th home run, tying the score.
“I tried not to think about who I was facing, just where I wanted the ball to go,” Pryor said. “When I got to the dugout after getting the last out of the seventh, I was a little short of breath.”
From there, Wilhelmsen, who hadn’t worked three innings since last season, dominated White Sox hitters for three innings. Using a 97 mph fastball to set up a curve, Wilhelmsen twice had Chicago batters diving away from the plate on called strikes.
“You gotta enjoy that,” he said.
Then, in the 12th, Jesus Montero doubled and came out for a pinch runner. One out later, Jaso doubled for a run and Chone Figgins – in as a defensive replacement – singled home Jaso for a two-run lead.
In the bullpen, there were two men remaining: Iwakuma and Shawn Kelley, who pitched Friday and was not available. Wilhelmsen was done, so Wedge went with Iwakuma, who’d earned a three-inning save Wednesday in a 21-8 game.
This was closer.
Iwakuma got a strike out, walked a batter, then got Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn on grounders. A man with six major league appearances in 55 games, Iwakuma now has two saves.
“That was a great game, just fight, fight, fight inning after inning,” Wilhelmsen said.
“We played, I don’t know, 14-15 innings?” Saunders said. “You want to win those games because it takes so much to play them. Both teams took leads, lost them, came back.
“We had a tough loss last night that was on me, and today the fans in center field wore me out – ‘Don’t catch it with your face.’ It was awfully nice to win it.”
Five games into a trip that runs from Texas to Chicago to Anaheim, the Mariners are 3-2 and have scored in double figures three times in their past four games.
“We had so many guys step up today, you continue to watch these kids grow at the big-league level,” Wedge said. “We had some warrior efforts and won a tough game against a hot team.”email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue