BOSTON — The stretch drive started Friday for the Mariners.
“I would say this is it,” manager Lloyd McClendon said before his club opened a three-game weekend series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“It really is. We have to up our game in a lot of different ways, both mentally and physically. They all get tough from here on out.”
The Mariners, counting Friday, have 36 games remaining. They began the day trailing Detroit by one-half game in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
McClendon plans to ride his regulars over the final five-plus weeks. He said players will no longer get days off to rest.
“Other than our scheduled days off,” he said, “no.”
That’s the way it should be, said second baseman Robinson Cano, a veteran of postseason races over his nine previous seasons with the New York Yankees.
“This is the time when you don’t want to take a day off,” Cano said. “Every game means a lot. You’ve got to be ready every single day.
“This is why, in the off-season, I work really hard because this is the time when your team really needs you.”
Six straight 200-strikeout seasons and counting.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez reached that milestone Friday by striking out the side in the second inning against Boston at Fenway Park by.
No. 200 came against Xander Bogaerts after a replay review on a deep drive to left field confirmed the on-field call of a foul ball.
Hernandez became the first pitcher in franchise history to reach 200 strikeouts in six straight seasons.
Randy Johnson did it seven times overall from 1991-98 but missed in 1996 when an injury limited him to 61 1/3 innings in 1996.
Hernandez is also, at this point, the only pitcher to reach 200 in each of the last six seasons. Detroit’s Justin Verlander needs 82 strikeouts to make it six straight years.
Since 1990, only three pitchers have more than six 200-strikeout seasons: Johnson (13), Pedro Martinez (nine) and Roger Clemens (eight).
SAUNDERS ON SHELF
Outfielder Michael Saunders’ season has reached the point where he can’t even stay healthy when on a rehab assignment.
McClendon said Saunders was sent home Thursday prior to Triple-A Tacoma’s 7-3 victory over Omaha (Royals) because he was dehydrated with flu-like symptoms.
Saunders isn’t expected to play for “two or three (more) days,” McClendon said, which is likely to force the Mariners to make a procedural move because rehab assignments are limited to 20 days.
Saunders began his assignment Aug. 7 in his recovery from a strained left oblique suffered July 10 on a swing against Minnesota. His assignment was previously interrupted by three-day absence for paternity leave.
One possibility would be to recall Saunders from his rehab assignment and option him to Tacoma until the Rainiers’ season ends. He is 9-for-35 with no homers and two RBIs through 10 games in his rehab assignment.
Outfielder Alex Jackson, the Mariners’ top pick in the June draft, returned to Peoria’s lineup Thursday in the Arizona Rookie League for the first time since July 21, when he suffered a broken bone in his left cheek.
The injury occurred when Jackson, 18, lost a ball in the lights.
Jackson served as the designated hitter and struck out in two at-bats before rain forced a suspension of the game with Peoria leading the White Sox 2-0 in the fifth inning in Glendale, Ariz.
Prior to the injury, Jackson batted .289 with two homers and 15 RBIs in 20 games.
Cano said he never hesitated when asked to be part of the Major League team that head to Japan in November for two exhibitions and a five-game series against that country’s national team.
“I had a great experience in 2011 when I went to Taiwan (on a similar tour),” Cano said. “Those are the great experiences that, as a player, you want to have.
“Everyone who’s gone in the past says Japan is beautiful. I was going to go there either way. If not to play, I was going to go on vacation. Believe me, I want to go.”
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig have also agreed to participate. The rest of the MLB team will be announced at a later date.
Outfielder Rusney Castillo, the Cuban defector who drew interest from the Mariners, agreed to a seven-year deal for $72.5 million from the Boston Red Sox, according to multiple reports.
The Red Sox, it appears, won a bidding war with Detroit. The Mariners and many other clubs dropped out as the bidding escalated. The deal is heavily backloaded, according to reports.
Castillo’s deal is the richest first-time contract ever awarded to a Cuban defector. He is represented by the Roc Nation/CAA partnership, which landed Robinson Cano's 10-year deal with the Mariners for $240 million.
The Mariners evaluated Castillo, 27, as a good player who could become a very good player. But they projected a lower ceiling than other recent Cuban defectors such as Jose Abreu, Puig and Yoenis Cespedes.
BIG PAPI’S PAST
It’s often overlooked that it was the Mariners who first signed Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz as a 17-year-old, non-drafted free agent from the Dominican Republic on Nov. 28, 1992.
Then again, he was known as David Arias at the time. His full name is David Américo Ortiz Arias, but it wasn’t until he was traded to Minnesota that he made it known that he preferred to be known as David Ortiz.
Ortiz spent three years in the Mariners’ system — two in the Arizona Rookie League and one at Wisconsin in the Lo-A Midwest League. He batted a combined .309 with 24 homers and 150 RBIs in 230 games.
The Mariners traded Ortiz to Minnesota on Sept. 13, 1996 as the player to be named later in an Aug. 29, 1996 deal that netted infielder Dave Hollins.
It was a great deal for the Mariners in the short term. Hollins batted .351 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 28 games over the remainder of the 1996 season. But he then became a free agent and signed with the Angels.
Ortiz spent six years with the Twins before he was released after batting .266 with 58 homers and 238 RBIs in 455 games. The Red Sox signed him on Jan. 22, 2003. It’s worked out well.
The Mariners entered the series with a streak of nine straight losses at Fenway Park…Mariners right-hander Chris Young, who starts Saturday, hasn’t pitched at Fenway Park since 2004…Boston Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski turned 75 on Friday.
Pulaski placed four players on the 14-member rookie-level Appalachian League All-Star team: first baseman Carlton Tanabe, outfielders Estarlyn Morales and Arby Fields and right-hander reliever Trey Cochran-Gill.
Tanabe, 22, is batting .326 with one homer and 21 RBIs in 39 games. He was a 24th-round pick in 2009.
Morales, 21, is batting .310 with five homers and 31 RBIs in 54 games. A Dominican native, he was signed in 2010 as a non-drafted free agent.
Fields, 23, is batting .321 with a .422 on-base percentage, three homers and 11 RBIs in 48 games. He was a 27th-round pick in 2011.
Cochran-Gill, 21, was a 17th-round pick in this year’s draft. He is 3-0 with an 0.35 ERA (one earned run in 25 1/3 innings) in 18 games with eight saves in eight opportunities.
Outfielder Gabby Guerrero and right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker are among the 13 players cited by Baseball America in its latest Prospect Hot Sheet.
Guerrero, 20, was No. 5 on the list after going 12-for-26 with three homers and eight RBIs in the last seven games for Hi-A High Desert.
Walker, 21, ranked No. 11 after two starts for Triple-A Tacoma in which he yielded four runs in 10 innings while striking out 16.
It was 32 years ago Saturday — Aug. 23, 1982 — that Hall of Fame right-hander (and famed spitballer) Gaylord Perry was ejected for the first time in his career for putting a foreign substance on the ball.
It came in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss to Boston at the Kingdome. The game was scoreless at the time, but the Red Sox had two on with two outs when they demanded the umpires check Perry.
The umpires found the ball dripping with vaseline. He was ejected and subsequently suspended 10 games. It marked the first time a pitcher had been ejected for doctoring a ball since the 1940s.
Perry was already a 300-game winner at the time and had authored a book in the 1970s entitled, Me and the Spitter. He finished his 22-season career a year later at 314-265. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
The Mariners and Red Sox continue their three-game series at 10:35 a.m. Pacific time Saturday at Fenway Park.
Right-hander Chris Young (12-6 with a 3.07 ERA) will oppose Boston right-hander Brandon Workman (1-6 and 4.45). Root Sports will televise the game.
The series concludes at 10:35 a.m. Pacific time Sunday. The Mariners return Monday to Safeco Field for a six-game homestand against Texas and Washington.