The starting pitching was great, the bullpens tenacious. So the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants got to the ninth inning Sunday tied at 1.
What followed was representative of the Mariners’ season – they fell into a bases-loaded, one-out jam, wriggled out of it and, with one out in their own half of the inning, delivered a winning single for a 2-1 victory.
“Walk-offs are the best,” reliever Tom Wilhelmsen said.
The Mariners took their final game of the homestand not just to the final inning but to the final swing: Justin Smoak’s line drive into left field chased home pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki.
That set off the Mariners’ traditional pursuit of the day’s hero – the entire bench chasing Smoak.
“Probably the fastest I’ve run all year,” Smoak deadpanned.
A Father’s Day gathering of 40,603 fans spent most of the 3 hours and 5 minutes this game required on the edge of their seats, with every batter after the second inning representing the potential go-ahead run.
Giants starter Madison Bumgarner stopped Seattle on three hits over eight innings. Felix Hernandez … well, let Smoak tell it.
“Felix was Felix,” Smoak said. “When he doesn’t dominate a game, people freak out. Today, he dominated.”
Through seven innings, Felix held serve against Bumgarner, and the teams were tied at one run apiece. The Giants pushed a run across in a three-hit first inning.
Seattle countered in the second with a Casper Wells single, Miguel Olivo’s double and a Dustin Ackley sacrifice fly.
Until the bottom of the ninth, that was it.
“It’s easy to see why Bumgarner’s had such a good season,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He really made it tough on us. Great pitching, by both starters.”
Across the field, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy agreed.
“You can’t ask for a much better effort than what Bumgarner gave us, but we got one run today,” Bochy said. “We just got shut down.”
By the ninth inning, both starters were watching from the dugouts when Tom Wilhelmsen came out of the bullpen. With one out, he gave up a single and then walked two batters to load the bases.
“I was low,” Wilhelmsen said. “That got pretty intense, didn’t it?”
Outfielder Melky Cabrera, batting .361 at the time, stood in against Wilhelmsen and struck out – on three nasty pitches. What was the key?
“He missed them,” Wilhelmsen said. “I guess I wanted it a bit more.”
Next batter, pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz. The second Wilhelmsen pitch was picked up at 99 mph for a strike, and a moment later, Schierholtz weakly grounded out to end the threat.
“The ninth innings aren’t always going to be clean,” Wedge said. “That’s part of the job. In the ninth, it will challenge you, and how you respond determines how often you get the chance to do the job.”
So the game went to the bottom of the inning.
Kyle Seager had gone 3-for-29 on this nine-game stay at home to that point, but against Sergio Romo, he banged the first pitch he saw into right field – a leadoff single.
Jesus Montero singled and Seattle had runners at first and second with no one out.
Managing then broke out. Wedge pinch hit Michael Saunders for Wells, and Bochy went to his bullpen for left-hander Javier Lopez.
Saunders bunted – but Lopez pounced on it and threw pinch-runner Chone Figgins out at third base.
Wedge sent Kawasaki to second base to run for Montero, now the potential winning run. Smoak stepped to the plate, and Lopez delivered a 1-1 pitch. Smoak shot the ball into left field.
The throw home hit Kawasaki in the back, and the Mariners had a two-game winning streak following a six-game losing streak.
“Awesome,” Felix said of the ninth. “When they loaded the bases, I was saying ‘C’mon, Tommy, you can get out of this,’ and he did. Then Smoak gets that hit? That was awesome!”
It certainly made the most of the six hits the Mariners managed, five of those singles.
In his 215th major league game, it was Smoak’s first walk-off hit.
It was just Seattle’s third come-from-behind win at Safeco Field this season, but the Mariners’ second in a row.
Now 29-39, the Mariners continue their play with the National League West on the road – Arizona for three games, then San Diego for three email@example.com