The Seattle Mariners relied upon their bullpen to record 10 outs Sunday.
And they won anyway.
One day after a ninth-inning collapse cost them a victory against the Chicago White Sox, the back end of the Mariners’ bullpen performed adequately for once in an 8-6 Seattle victory before a crowd of 30,537 at Safeco Field.
Never mind that the Mariners led 7-1 before the White Sox assembled a five-run sixth-inning against Seattle starter Taijuan Walker (who surrendered a massive home run to Jose Abreu) and reliever Logan Kensing (who gave up a two-run homer to Adam LaRoche with an inherited runner on base).
At least this time, when Seattle called upon Carson Smith, he took care of business. Smith faced four batters — the final out of the seventh, then three in the eighth — and retired each via ground ball, and he needed just 10 pitches to do it.
Tom Wilhelmsen, once a closer himself, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his third save of the season.
Lately, that’s been Smith’s job, though he has struggled. So Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon put him into the game in a lower-pressure situation this time, and Smith responded with aplomb.
“It was a good day for him,” McClendon said.
Better than Saturday, certainly.
“It’s always good to bounce back,” Smith said. “I think any pitcher, after they struggle, they want to get back out there as soon as they can to erase what happened the night before, (or) the days before.
“I wasn’t too surprised. I had been told I may be getting in sooner today, and that’s what happened.”
Before that sixth inning, it didn’t seem the bullpen would be tested. The Mariners (57-67) scored four runs in the third inning against White Sox starter John Danks — Jesus Sucre and Franklin Gutierrez each drove in runs with singles, and Nelson Cruz drove in two runs with a two-out double — and tacked on another three in the fifth thanks to Austin Jackson’s RBI single and Robinson Cano’s two-run homer to right field.
So it was 7-1 going into the sixth, and at that point, Walker was cruising: he’d allowed a run in the second when Alexei Ramirez drove in LaRoche from second base with a one-out single, but retired the next 11 batters.
After getting the first batter in the sixth, things went sideways. Adam Eaton singled, then Tyler Saladino drove him in with a double before Abreu crushed Walker’s 1-0 pitch over the center-field fence.
After Melky Cabrera grounded out to shortstop and Avisail Garcia singled, McClendon removed Walker for reliever Logan Kensing despite a relatively modest pitch count of 87.
“Got away from him a little bit there in the sixth,” McClendon said. “(He) elevated some balls, left some breaking balls up.”
Walker, who still earned the victory (9-7), explained it like this: “I felt like they were being real aggressive and swinging first-pitch early, so we wanted to mix the curveball in there just to get them off the fastball on the first pitch, and it was working. I just went to too much soft stuff in that sixth inning and just got away from the game plan.”
After LaRoche’s homer, the White Sox managed just one base runner — a two-out walk to Eaton by Kensing in the seventh. Smith and Wilhelmsen retired the next seven batters without incident.
“Like I told the guys in the dugout,” Cano said, “it’s good to end it with a happy Sunday.”
Oakland (LHP Felix Douubront: 1-1, 3.89 ERA) at Seattle (RHP Hisashi Iwakuma: 5-2, 3.74), 7:10 p.m., Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM