A three-run first inning Friday provided the perfect start for the Mariners to a 12-game trip that spans four cities and will likely determine whether they play meaningful games in September.
Even better was another strong performance from by Erasmo Ramirez before the bullpen closed out a 7-1 victory at Tampa Bay. Throw in a 482-foot homer by Nelson Cruz, the longest in Tropicana Field history, and, yep, a pretty good night.
"It’s like I always say — it starts with the pitching," Cruz said. "Erasmo and the bullpen did the job today. They gave up one run, and (the Mariners’) offense scored seven. It looks pretty nice all around."
Ramirez (5-4) gave up one run and just two hits in six innings and gained his first victory in four starts since returning to the Mariners from Tampa Bay in a July 28 trade for veteran reliever Steve Cishek.
"That’s what we needed to get tonight," manager Scott Servais said. "A deep start by our starter and to put some runs up there."
The Mariners whacked Rays starter Aaron Pruitt (6-4) for three runs and four hits in the first inning. Cruz contributed a run-scoring double that also extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He was just getting started.
Mike Zunino’s two-run double in the fourth inning extended the lead to 5-0.
Ramirez deserved a victory in his last start when he held the Los Angeles Angels to one unearned run in six innings before the bullpen blew a four-run lead in a 6-5 loss.
Not this time.
James Pazos and Emilio Pagan combined for three scoreless innings.
The victory pulled the Mariners back over .500 at 62-61 and to within one-half game of the Angels in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. The Angels suffered a walk-off loss at Baltimore.
Cruz’s boomer came with two outs in the ninth inning against reliever Brad Boxberger. It was a soaring drive to left field that sailed into the upper deck.
"He’s special," third baseman Kyle Seager said, "but even special guys don’t hit it that far. That’s a different level."
Cruz’s response: "They give you any prize for that?"
Three takeaways from Friday’s victory:
***Road warrior: Pazos replaced Ramirez to start the seventh and worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts before Pagan got the final two outs.
Pazos is on a nice run in August after a shaky stretch that saw him allow 14 runs in eight innings. Since the calendar turned, he has not allowed an earned run over 6 2/3 innings in six outings.
He’s been strong all year on the road: a 1.14 ERA in 22 outings in contrast to a 6.04 ERA in 25 appearances at Safeco Field.
***Staying alert: The Rays scored their only run after Kevin Kiermaier took advantage of an atypically casual play by center fielder Guillermo Heredia after a leadoff single in the sixth inning.
Kiermaier kept running and turned a single into a hustle double. He moved to third on a grounder and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda to short center field.
Heredia had a play on Kiermaier at the plate by threw high and wide.
***500 club: Seager returned to the lineup after missing two games because of a stomach virus and marked the occasion by joining the 500-RBI club. It came on a ground out in a three-run first inning.
"That’s pretty good," he said. "It’s something I’m proud of."
Seager is the 10th player to drive in 500 runs as a Mariner.
The others are Edgar Martinez (1,261), Ken Griffey Jr. (1,216), Jay Buhner (951), Alvin Davis (667), Ichiro Suzuki (633), Raul Ibanez (612), Alex Rodriguez (595), Brett Boone (535) and Dan Wilson (508).
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners