It didn’t bother the Seattle Mariners that, in the 17th meeting between the two teams, the Texas Rangers came to town without Josh Hamilton or Adrian Beltre.
It evened the playing field a bit.
Scoring early on an error and wild pitch, then late on Miguel Olivo’s two-run home run, the Mariners eased past the depleted Rangers, 6-3, to win their 71st game of the season.
They didn’t feel the least bit guilty.
“It’s a long season, and whether it’s them or us, guys need time off,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Another rock-solid start from Hisashi Iwakuma, who went seven strong innings, had an easier evening thanks to the absence of the Rangers’ two most productive hitters.
And without Beltre at third base, veteran Michael Young made a rare start there – and couldn’t handle a Franklin Gutierrez grounder in the fourth inning that chased home a Seattle run.
Then in the eighth inning, with the Mariners up one run, catcher Olivo hammered his 12th homer of the season down the left-field line with hot-hitting Justin Smoak aboard.
“Against that team, every run is important,” Olivo said.
For all that, the Mariners won because, three times, the Rangers grounded into rally-gutting double plays.
Rookie shortstop Carlos Triunfel was the man-in-the-middle in all three, and in his first major league start he displayed a throwing arm that had a Safeco Field crowd of 17,893 buzzing.
“He throws it as hard as he can every time he throws,” first baseman Smoak said, shaking his head. “It’s pretty impressive.”
The double plays weren’t window dressing.
The first one got Iwakuma out of the first inning. The Mariners didn’t get another until the eighth inning, when Stephen Pryor was pitching.
Then, up by one run with Elvis Andrus on first base, Pryor got to a 3-2 count on Young and unleashed one of his 92 mph sliders.
“I’m trying to get one out there and two is a bonus, but I wanted something on the ground,” Pryor said. “If he’s looking fastball, I want that breaking pitch moving on him ...”
It moved, and Young banged a ball to second baseman Kyle Seager, who flipped to Triunfel – who threw a seed to Smoak.
Even after Olivo’s home run gave closer Tom Wilhelmsen a three-run lead, he couldn’t take anything for granted against Texas.
“Their offense is relentless, they just always come after you,” Wilhelmsen said.
Sure enough, Texas opened the ninth inning with a Nelson Cruz single, then a ground ball off third baseman Alex Liddi’s glove for an error – and the potential tying run came to the plate with no one out.
Catcher Geovany Soto broke his bat on a Wilhelmsen fastball and there it was again, a Seager-to-Triunfel-to-Smoak double play that left Texas with a man on third and two outs.
“I felt very good thanks to God. Now I’m confident and I’m glad I played well … all the nerves are gone,” Triunfel said.
Wilhelmsen struck out Mitch Moreland for his 28th save, and the Mariners finished 8-9 against Texas in 2012.
Hamilton will miss this series because of sinus problems – he’s back in Texas – and Beltre may rejoin the team today but has been fighting abdominal pain the past week.
The Mariners can relate, but that’s about the extent of it.
“Even without those guys, that’s a good team,” Franklin Gutierrez said. “You’ve got to score runs, because you know they will.”
The Mariners scored in the second inning when Casper Wells doubled home Smoak – the only hit the Mariners had all night with a runner in scoring position.
Their other runs?
Gutierrez tripled and scored on a wild pitch.
Wells singled and scored from first base on a Triunfel double – and Triunfel scored on the error by Young.
Smoak scored from first on Olivo’s home run.
“The double plays were huge, especially in the eighth and ninth innings,” Wedge said. “And we did a little better job of finishing off innings tonight.”
As for that 8-9 record against Texas?
“As you see this team continue to improve, you’ll see us play the teams above us in the division better,” Wedge said. “We’ve played the Rangers well this year. We’ve played most good teams well, kept them close and had the opportunity to win.”
With 11 games left – all against teams in the hunt for postseason berths – the Mariners are already four wins better than they finished in 2011.
They want more.
“We want every game,” Michael Saunders said.
Not six of eight, or eight out of nine?
“Every game,” Saunders email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners