Raise your hands if you expected the Mariners to come out and sweep the Tigers to start out this road trip?
Sure, you did. Because everything we saw from Seattle in the past homestand had you thinking optimistically.
The idea of sweeping a team – any team – seemed downright absurd.
But for the last three days in the Motor City, the Seattle Mariners did that with solid pitching, and yes, plenty of hitting.
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That second part isn’t a typo. The Mariners banged out double digits hits for the third night in a row and the fourth time in five games to roll to a 7-2 win over the Detroit Tigers, sweeping the three-game series, and improving to 11-15 on the season.
It was the Mariners first three-game sweep of a team since June 18-20, when they swept the Cincinnati Reds at Safeco Field. And the last time the Mariners swept a team on the road in a three-game series came on April 10-12, 2009 against the Oakland A’s. It’s the Mariners first sweep of the Tigers since July 29-31 of 2003, and the first sweep in Detroit since May 16-18 of 2003.
“They’re a good baseball team,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of a Tigers team that dropped to 12-13 on the season. “It’s tough to sweep another Major League team and even that much tougher on the road. But we came in here, our starting pitchers gave us great effort, we had some timely hitting and that was really the difference.”
Indeed, the starting pitching in the series was scintillating, capped off by rookie sensation Michael Pineda, who set what figures to the first of several Mariners records, by pitching six strong innings, allowing just two runs while striking out nine hitters and walking three to pick up his fourth win of the season.
“He did a great job of controlling the ball game, mixed his pitches well,” Wedge said. “It was a cold and windy day and he handled the elements well.”
Pineda set a Mariners’ rookie record by posting his fourth win in the month of April. He has now made quality starts (six innings pitches, less than three runs) in all five of his starts – also a Mariners’ rookie record.
Everyone knew that the kid had talent, but to be 4-1 in five starts with a 2.01 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings pitched at age 22, who could have imagined that?
“He’s unbelievable,” said his catcher Miguel Olivo. “He’s one of the top pitchers in the league right now.”
Pineda admitted he wasn’t expecting all this early success.
“I’m a little surprised,” he said. “It’s pretty good. I’m 22 years old and got four wins in the big league. But I’m working for this. I’m working all the time to be a great pitcher on the mound.”
Pineda looked great from the outset. He struck out the side in the first inning on just 12 pitches.
But things got a little more difficult in the second inning. After striking out the ultra dangerous Miguel Cabrera, Pineda gave up a double to right to Brennan Boesch and then walked Ryan Raburn. Alex Avila followed with a looping double to right to score both runner and push the lead to 2-0. Both of the hits in the inning came off of left-handers, who have proven to have a minor advantage when hitting against Pineda this season.
“The first inning I was pretty good,” Pineda said. “My fastball was down and my slider was pretty good. But the second inning I was little open and I made adjustment.”
Pineda meant his left shoulder was staying open on the delivery causing him to leave pitches up in the zone. He came out in the third inning, determined to keep the left shoulder closed and the ball down.
“He’s learning,” Olivo said. “He follows me and is talking to Felix (Hernandez) and all those guys. He’s a good learner. The minute he gets everything together, he’s going to be really, really dangerous.”
Once he did, he never had any trouble, allowing just two hits over the next four innings.
Of his nine strikeouts, three stood out. He struck out Cabrera with a slider on a nine-pitch at-bat in the second inning.
“He’s one of the best hitters in the game,” Wedge said. “You talk about having to work to get someone out. He’s as tough as anybody. And Michael didn’t give in to him.”
Pineda had a wide grin talking about the strike out.
“I threw the ball down and threw my slider down,” he said. “No mistakes because he has a lot of power and is pretty good hitter.”
In the third inning, he froze Magglio Ordonez with a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner that couldn’t have been placed any better.
“I was thinking that first strike out on him was a slider,” Pineda said. “And the second time, I said he was thinking about me throwing a slider now, but I threw a fastball on the corner. It was pretty good. I thought, ‘No swing? Nice.’”
And now that the Mariners have suddenly become an offensive juggernaut – well at least against the Tigers this season – run support wasn’t an issue.
Seattle erased the two run deficit immediately.
Michael Saunders and Jack Wilson led off the third inning with back-to-back singles off of Tigers starter Brad Penny. Saunders would score on Ichiro Suzuki’s RBI single to center, while Wilson scored on a fielder’s choice from Chone Figgins.
The Mariners took the lead for good in fourth. Hot hitting Justin Smoak continued his torrid run, ripping a run-scoring double deep to center off of Tiger starter Brad Penny. The ball short hopped the wall at 420 feet and would have been out of most parks. It would have been Smoak’s fourth homer in four straight games. Instead, he settled for a double that still extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
Seattle pushed the lead to 4-2 when Miguel Olivo ripped a solo homer to left off of Penny. Like their previous two wins, the Mariners broke the game open against Detroit’s awful bullpen.
Luis Rodriguez, who was making his first start in five days, ripped three-run homer to right field off of Ryan Perry to put the game out of reach.
Wedge isn’t ready to christen his team an offensive powerhouse, but he likes what he seen in the past few games.
“It just doesn’t happen over night,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes with these guys. You baby step in the right direction, you put up better at-bats, make more productive outs and then you start to see some results. And that’s what I think you’re seeing.”
Wilson leaves game with eye irritation
With winds howling and gusting upwards of 25 mph, there was plenty of dust and other objects flying around Comerica Park. Unfortunately one of those pieces of debris landed in the eye of Mariners second baseman Jack Wilson before his second at-bat and became lodged.
In his frantic effort to get the piece of dirt out of his eye, Wilson scratched his right eye and had to be lifted from the game.
“You know how something gets in there and you try to wipe it out, I just kept wiping at it and wiping at it,” Wilson said.
It only made things worse. It blurred his vision. And it made it even come uncomfortable.
“It freaked me out,” he said. “It’s a horrible feeling and I had to go up to the plate like that.”
He struck out looking in that at-bat was lifted for Brendan Ryan.
Wilson’s eye was very red and a swollen after the game.
“It doesn’t feel good at all,” he said. “But I should be fine.”