Michael Saunders had watched Matt Harrison go 4-0 in his first four starts against the Seattle Mariners this season, dominating them in each game – so he was delighted with the results Saturday.
“We finally found a way to beat him,” Saunders deadpanned. “We didn’t let them score any runs.”
Them in this case was the division-leading Texas Rangers, who were beaten, 1-0, by a Saunders home run and the pitching of Blake Beavan, Josh Kinney and Tom Wilhelmsen.
“That was a big momentum game, back and forth,” Beavan said. “I relied on my defense and my bullpen – it’s pretty special when a teammate comes into the eighth inning in a jam and does that job …”
Beavan went seven shutout innings and, in the eighth, allowed a single and a walk. Manager Eric Wedge went to the bullpen in hopes of limiting the damage, and called on veteran Kinney.
“You come in there and know the first guy is going to try to bunt them over,” Kinney said. “If (Ian) Kinsler gets the bunt down, they tie the game on a fly ball. My mindset was pitch nasty. Make him bunt a tough pitch.”
Kinney came up and in, then down and away, and put Kinsler in a hole he didn’t escape, striking out. Elvis Andrus then flied out – a ball deep enough to have scored a man from third – and Michael Young struck out.
“That inning was huge,” Wedge said.
From there, all Wilhelmsen had to do in the ninth was roll through Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy – which took him five pitches.
“After what Blake and Josh did, I had to do my job, too,” he said of his 29th save.
Saunders, whose home run was the games only scoring, knew it wasn’t just his 17th homer that earned the Mariners’ 72nd win of the year.
“Pitching won this game,” he said. “That’s the best game I’ve ever seen Beavan pitch, and it was against one of the most potent lineups in baseball. Then what Kinney and Tom did?
“We made plays tonight. We got one run. Pitching won it and allowed us to win this series. (Today) we’ll try to sweep it.”
The Rangers came to town 191/2 games ahead of Seattle in the American League West, but the Mariners woke up this morning 171/2 back and with a 9-9 record against Texas.
“We’re playing for next year, too,” Saunders said. “We’d like to send a message.”
A win today and the Mariners win the season series, 10-9.
It was a game that challenged Beavan and his bullpen all night, and the Rangers never let anyone in the Safeco Field crowd of 17,671 relax. Each of the first three innings, Texas opened up with a hit, including a second inning double.
Beavan stranded a runner on third in the first inning, at second in the second and got a double play to eliminate the threat in the third.
In the fourth? All he needed was a marvelous defensive play from right fielder Casper Wells and second baseman Kyle Seager to keep Texas off the scoreboard.
With Cruz at first base and two outs, Murphy doubled into the right field corner and everyone in the zip code knew Cruz was going to try to score.
“Casper got to the ball as quick as anyone could and got the ball to me real quick with a good throw,” Seager said. “I heard guys yelling, ‘Four! Four!’ so I knew there would be a play at the plate.”
There was. Seager whirled and threw to catcher Jesus Montero, who caught the ball and had to wait for Cruz to reach him.
“Every pitch, every play was big, because there was no margin for error,” Kinney said. “Blake was going for his 10th win, and he pitched a beautiful game. I went in and tried to be a bulldog.”
During Kinney’s work in the eighth, Wilhelmsen watched from the bullpen.
“Josh tagged the zone with his best stuff, and his best stuff was better than their best tonight,” Wilhelmsen said. “It’s a reminder, on any given day we can compete with the best teams in the league.
“That means something.”
With 10 games left, the Mariners are five wins ahead of where they finished in 2011. It’s not because of their offense.
“That team has a veteran lineup with power, speed and experience,” Wedge said. “Blake, Josh and Tom did a really fine job against them.”
Ron Washington was inclined to agree.
“We’re not pressing,” he said. “When you face a team with pitching the Mariners ... you give credit. Blake Beavan threw a good game tonight.”email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners