Perhaps the walk-off misery has taken a break for the Seattle Mariners.
Once again it looked as though the Mariners would be trudging off the field dejected while the opposing team celebrated, just like in Cleveland and Minnesota.
But a funny thing happened – it didn’t happen.
Instead, the Mariners (32-40) found a way to win a game that looked almost certain to be slipping away from them like so many before.
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Kyle Seager came up with a two-out double and Kendrys Morales scored him moments with a single off the glove a leaping Erick Aybar in the top of the 10th inning to lead the Mariners to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels, Tuesday night at Angels Stadium.
Morales late-inning heroics were only part of getting the win. Seattle still needed to navigate its way through the bottom of the 10th.
With closer Tom Wilhelmsen on sabbatical from closing duties, and Oliver Perez having already thrown earlier and Carter Capps struggling, the onus fell on hard-throwing rookie Yoervis Medina.
An afterthought for much of spring training, Medina came through, working a 1-2-3 inning, retiring Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick to pick up his first career big league save.
“I was concentrating on the first pitch to Pujols,” Medina said. “My concentration was he’s a good hitter and get that out. In the last inning, that first out is the most important.”
Was he nervous?
“I was a little bit nervous in the bullpen, I was like, ok, take your time, relax and throw strikes,” he said.
Of course, all the drama wouldn’t have been needed if the Mariners could have simply held the 2-1 lead given them by starter Jeremy Bonderman after six solid innings of work. Bonderman allowed just one run – a solo homer to Mark Trumbo – in his third straight quality start.
“It was alright,” he said. “It wasn’t great, but I’ll take it. I had to struggle through some stuff. I just had to make pitches when they count, and I was able to do that tonight. Guys made some great defensive plays behind me and we were able to get the win.”
Bonderman knows what he has to do be effective.
“I just try to work the ball low in the zone,” he said. “I don’t want to miss up. If I miss up, I give up a home run. If you stay right at the knees or just below, you can generate a lot of ground balls and get some easier outs. But today I really had to work for them. Nothing came easy.”
But the bullpen couldn’t hold it as Wilhelmsen’s struggles continue.
The last time Wilhelmsen came in to protect a lead was in Bonderman’s previous start in Safeco Field. He was called on to close out a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth and gave up five runs. He lost his closing job after that.
This time he entered in the eighth inning to protect a 2-1 lead. Different inning, same bad result. Wilhelmsen left a 97 mph fastball up on the inside half of the plate and Albert Pujols deposited it into the left field stands for his a solo homer – his 12th homer of the year – and tying the game at 2-2.
“With where we were, we had a couple guys we wanted to stay away from (Capps) and Tommy was the guy to go to right there,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s a fresh inning, we had to send him out there for the next inning too, because of what happened. But we were planning on saving Medina to close, so we couldn’t go to him. We’re basically talking about Farquhar or Tommy right there, so it was a good opportunity to do it and I thought he got better. He left a pitch up to Pujols, but worked into it better. To sit down and then go back out and do some things, he’s still working his way back.”
Wedge isn’t about to let Wilhelmsen’s struggles dictate every little thing.
“You have to use your guys in your bullpen,” he said. “Tommy is a guy we’ve got to use, even though he’s in a different role. Otherwise you can’t be here, so that was the situation there.”
Wilhelmsen did manage to keep the game tied, retiring the next three batters in order.
Wedge sent Wilhelmsen back out for the ninth. He immediately gave up a lead-off single Erick Aybar and then walked Chris Iannetta. But Wilhelmsen showed a little moxie, striking out Peter Bourjos after he failed to get down two bunt attempts and getting Mike Trout to fly out to center field.
Wedge went to lefty Charlie Furbush to face Josh Hamilton in a left vs. left situation. Furbush continued Hamilton’s night of misery, striking him out. For the game, Hamilton went 0-for-5, hitting into three double plays and striking out twice.
“Our guys did a great job on that first-and-second bunt situation there,” Wedge said. “That was a difference maker, getting that out there,” Wedge said. “Then we were able to work out of it from there and of course Furbush coming in and getting a big strikeout.”
Furbush threw Hamilton five straight breaking balls.
“I’ve faced him a couple times,” Furbush said. “That’s just something that has worked for me in the past against him, so I figured I’d go with my best pitch there and see how it turned out. Luckily we got the strikeout. He swung right through them.”
The Mariner continued to be far from an offensive juggernaut. They managed just eight hits on the night.
Seattle grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second in somewhat unlikely fashion. Well the first part wasn’t a surprise. Raul Ibanez crushed a solo home run to right field off of Joe Blanton to lead-off the inning. It was Ibanez’s team-leading 14th home run of the season.
But the next run was a little unexpected.
Justin Smoak fresh off a stint on the disabled list where he missed 20 days and 18 games, ripped the first pitch he saw from Blanton over the wall in right field for his fourth homer of the season.
“I felt great,” Smoak said. “I felt like I hit three balls hard. It’s one of those things where I have to keep doing the work and stay where I’m at right now.”
Smoak’s homer was a line drive that barely cleared the wall, and it was close enough that Angels' manager Mike Scioscia asked home plate umpire John Hirschbeck to review the play. The umpires met for about five minutes and it was ruled a home run.
But that little burst was all the offense the Mariners would muster against Blanton, who came into the game with a 5.87 earned run average.
Blanton, who worked tortoise-like pace reminiscent of Miguel Batista, didn’t allow another run and just four runners reached over the next 4 2/3 innings. It helped that the Mariners for some reason couldn’t stop striking out against Blanton. Seattle hitters whiffed 11 times against Blanton in the game.
That puts Blanton on a list of nine starting pitchers to strike out 10 or Mariners hitters in an outing this season. The list includes Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, CC Sabathia, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, but also the likes of Blanton and Eric Stults.