A whirlwind Friday ended for the Seattle Mariners in a 2-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular that — let’s be honest — was a lot tougher than it should have been.
The Mariners spent much of the game squandering scoring opportunities; they finished 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position. But homers in the sixth inning by Kyle Seager and Franklin Gutierrez proved sufficient.
Sufficient because right-hander Taijuan Walker (10-7) was dominant for six-plus innings before exiting the game because of a cramp in his right hip flexor.
“It just kind of cramped up and gave out on me,” Walker said. “Then I got back in here (to the clubhouse) and everything was fine.”
It looked far worse when Walker tumbled to the ground after delivering a pitch and grabbed his hip. Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen completed the shutout. Wilhelmsen got his fifth save.
So ended a tumultuous day that began with the Mariners firing general manager Jack Zduriencik.
The game remained scoreless into the sixth inning before Seager led off with a 434-foot homer to right field against Chicago starter John Danks. It was Seager’s 19th homer of the season.
Seager had three of the Mariners’ 10 hits after going 2 for 28 over his previous seven games. He didn’t start Thursday’s series opener — a rarity — because manager Lloyd McClendon wanted to give him a mental break.
“It had been feeling a little better,” Seager said. “I was getting in a little better position by the end of the (last) homestand. Working with Edgar (Martinez) and trying to shore everything up and get it right.”
After Danks retired Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, Gutierrez teed off on a full-count fastball for a 409-foot homer to left. It was No. 10 for Gutierrez, and the Mariners led, 2-0.
And that ended the scoring, but not the drama
Danks (6-12) didn’t return for the seventh inning, and the Mariners put runners at first and second with one out against Matt Albers. After Ketel Marte lined out to left, a four-pitch walk to Seager loaded the bases.
But Cruz struck out. When he grounded out in the ninth, it ended a 0 for 5 night that halted his career-best streak of reaching base successfully at 37 games.
It got interesting in the Chicago seventh.
Melky Cabrera led off with a single through the left side. Walker struck out Avisail Garcia and worked the count full on Adam LaRoche before collapsing on the mound.
Walker grabbed his right hip and, after a quick examination by assistant trainer Rob Nodine, was helped to the clubhouse. Only a cramp.
Smith replaced Walker and walked LaRoche.
That put the runners at first and second with one out. When Alexei Ramirez grounded a single that caromed off Smith’s right hip, the bases were loaded.
“When you’re in the moment,” Smith said, “and the adrenaline is going … it didn’t really bother me at all. It will probably hurt a little bit more (on Saturday).”
Smith escaped when pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck grounded into a third-home-first double play. Third baseman Seager never hesitated in coming to the plate rather than try for an around-the-horn double play.
“Shuck is a guy who hits it over there quite a bit,” Seager said, “and he’s really fast. I remember trying to turn double plays on him in the past, and they don’t always work.
“The way it was hit to me, straight to me, it was a lot quicker to go home. If we weren’t able to turn it, we’d still get an out at home.”
It shouldn’t have been this close.
“You think?” McClendon said. “Let me count them. (Runners stranded in the) first, second, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth. We were lucky to win.”
The Mariners wasted their first scoring opportunity in the post-Zduriencik era after putting runners at first and second with no outs in the first inning.
Cruz popped out, and Cano grounded into a double play.
The Mariners opened the second inning with singles by Gutierrez and Austin Jackson but, again, couldn’t cash the opportunity.
Mark Trumbo struck out, Logan Morrison grounded out to first, and Jesus Sucre flied out to right.
The Mariners got a runner to second with one out in the fourth when Gutierrez singled and advanced on a wild pitch. More nothing. Jackson struck out, and Trumbo popped out.
Morrison led off the fifth with a double to left that Cabrera probably should have caught — and then broke too far off second when Sucre pulled back on a sacrifice bunt.
Catcher Geovany Soto picked off Morrison.
Somehow, it turned out well.