Early in the season, we didn't see the Mariners win these games, particularly at Safeco where their offense seems to be as cold as the night air. Down by one run late? It wasn't happening.
But they found a way tonight.
So instead of settling for a solid effort, Seattle carried over its stellar play on the road to Safeco Field on Tuesday night. The Mariners scored two runs in the eighth inning to rally for a 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers. It was their sixth win in seven games. They are now 14-16 and just two games out of first in the American League West, while still being in last place.
Is it a result of how well they played on the road? Manager Eric Wedge says no.
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“It’s more a factor of how these guys have played all year,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy in the dugout. They’re pulling for each other. They’ve competed from the first inning of the first game of the year.”
But now, the execution now equals the want.
“When you keep pushing, good things are going to happen,” he said.
The Mariners pushed and pushed early but only had one run to show for it over the first six innings – an RBI ground double from Justin Smoak – against Texas starter Alexi Ogando.
The good things happened in the eighth inning. Trailing 3-2, Adam Kennedy dumped a soft single into left off of reliever Pedro Strop. Clean-up hitter Miguel Olivo then stunned the Rangers and Strop by dropping down a bunt. Strop stumbled off the mound and Olivo had himself a bunt base hit.
“I saw him looking down there before the at-bat even started,” said Smoak, who was on deck. “It was good bunt, he got on and it was just a matter of getting guys in.”
Smoak has been doing that better than any Mariners hitter this season, and he came through yet again, ripping a ground ball to the right side that went off the glove of a diving Mike Napoli to score Kennedy from second to the game at 3-3.
“Just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Smoak said. “I figured he was going to off-speed with runners in scoring position. I got a slider or something and I was able to sneak on through. I thought he had it when I first hit it.”
With runners on the corners and no outs, manager Ron Washington went to veteran left-hander and interim closer Darren Oliver to face the left-handed hitting Jack Cust.
Going against his own scouting report and tendencies, Cust jumped on the first pitch – a curveball – and drove through the infield to score the game-winning run.
“I just had a feeling he was going to go to that pitch there,” Cust said. “I had a feeling they’d try to steal a strike with an off-speed pitch early. I’ve faced him a bunch over the years. He doesn’t really have any pattern. You just have to be ready to hit. I know what his ball does – his fastball, his curveball. That ball was up a little bit, and I was able to get it through the infield.”
It was kind of the game within the game. Oliver probably expected to steal an easy strike against the normally ultra-patient Cust.
“Especially with an off-speed pitch, they know I’m looking for fastballs a lot of the time,” Cust said. “You got to know what they’re going to throw, and they’re not going to throw to your strengths, especially in that situation. My swing has been feeling good where I feel I can handle a lot of pitches. I can just get ready to hit a fastball and adjust to other stuff.”
For Cust, that's six hits over his last 18 at-bats. Two of those hits scored game-winning runs.
“That was big for him and big for us,” Wedge said. “I felt like he really started getting it going in Boston, to see his batting practice, his takes during the game, his swings. Prior to that, he had a couple of hard outs. It’s great to see him step up for us.”
One player who also continued to take big steps forward was starting pitcher Erik Bedard. The left-hander gave the Mariners his second straight quality start, going seven innings and allowing just two runs (one earned) on two hits, while striking out two and walking three. It was the first time that Bedard has thrown back-to-back seven inning starts since May of 2008.
“For him to give us 7 strong innings, that says a lot just about how far he’s come,” Wedge said. “Just in the fact that it’s been a while since he’s been out there. We continue to see him take steps from start to start.”
But it certainly didn’t seem like he was destined for seven innings during the first inning.
Bedard simply couldn’t find his command at all in the first inning, walking the first two batters he faced. He managed to get an out, but an error by Chone Figgins let a run score. Instead of letting the outing get out of hand after it just started, Bedard got Nelson Cruz to fly out and then struck out Mike Napoli, allowing just the one run.
“That first inning was a little rough,” he said. “I was having a hard time controlling the strike zone. I was just trying to battle up there, trying to throw strikes and get people out.”
He wasn’t even picky about what pitches he was using to do it.
“Anything that I could throw over the plate,” he said. “I wasn’t throwing much over the plate. So anything that was going to go over, hopefully they were going to hit it in play and get an out.”
It took 33 pitches to get out of the first, and it seemed as though Bedard would give the Mariners five innings at the most. But he settled down, needing just eight pitches in the second inning. With a rhythm established, he continued to get outs, showing a great curveball and scintillating changeup.
“I thought his changeup really played for him late in the game,” Wedge said. “He threw it against some right-handers and left-handers.”
• Starting pitcher Alexi Ogando allowed just one run in 6.0 inning…5th time this season he has started at least 6.0 innings while allowing 2 runs or less…4th time allowing 1 run or less in his 6 starts…pitched 6 strikeouts, 2nd highest this season (7, 4/28/11 vs. TOR).
• Ogando, in two starts against Seattle, is 1-0, 0.75 ERA (1 ER, 12.0 IP) with 10 strikeouts.
• Adrian Beltre has hit safely in 19 of 30 games this season…his hit in the 9th inning snapped an 0x13 hitting drought.
• Michael Young has hit safely in last 13 road games and his safely in 21 of last 23 total games…has 11 RBI in last 7 games with 1+ RBI in each game…leads A.L. in hits for 2011 with 41 (Ichiro is 2nd with 40).
• Elvis Andrus extended his hitting streak to 9 games with an RBI single (squeeze) as a pinch hitter in the 8th
inning…during the streak he is batting .343 (12x35) with 1 doubles, and 1 RBI…the current streak is the fifth longest of his career…hit in a career-high 16 straight games Aug. 28-Sept. 14, 2009.
• The Rangers have now lost the last 3 games, the team’s longest losing streak of the season…they have also lost 8 of their last 10 road games after starting the season 3-1 on away games.
• Nelson Cruz left the game in the 7th inning with tightness in his right quad…he will be reevaluated tomorrow.
• Mariners have won 10 of their last 15 games including 6 of last 7 games…are 2.0 games behind the AL West lead.
• Starter Erik Bedard did not allow a hit until Ian Kinsler’s leadoff double in the 6th inning…until giving up the double, had retired 14 batters in a row between the first and fifth innings.
• Bedard tossed a season-high tying 7.0 innings…first time to toss at least 7.0 innings in back-to-back games since May 2 (at NYY) and May 5 (vs. TEX) in 2008.
• Justin Smoak, in 9 career games against the Rangers, is batting .343 (12x35) with 4 runs, 2 doubles, 3 home runs, 10 RBI, and 2 walks and .657 slugging percentage.
• Smoak tied career-high with 3 hits (5x, last: 9/27/10 @ TEX…11 of 24 hits have been for extra bases (7 2B, 4 HR).
• Smoak extended his home hitting streak to 5 games…during the streak he is batting .444 (8x18) with 2 runs, 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 RBI, 3 walks…in his last 15 games at Safeco Field is batting .365 (19x52) with 7 runs, 7 doubles, 2 home runs, 9 RBI and 8 walks.
• Jack Cust extended his hitting streak to 6 games and has reached base safely in 11 of his last 15 plate appearances
(2 1B, 2 2B, 6 BB, 1 HBP)…during 6-game hitting streak is batting .333 (6x18) with 1 run, 3 doubles, 4 RBI, 6 walks.
• Adam Kennedy has hit in 8 of last 10 and 10 of last 13 games…of tonight’s starting players, currently has highest average vs. Rangers’ starting pitcher Alexi Ogando at .500 (3x6)…recorded his 4th multi-hit game in his last 8 home games…in 12 games at Safeco Field this season is batting .333 (14x42) with 4 runs, 3 double, 2 HR, and 4 RBI.