Late in another of those how-many-times-can-they-lose-like-this games, the Seattle Mariners found something that had been missing at Safeco Field all season – clutch hitting.
Trailing 3-1 to a team that had only three hits, Seattle loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh inning, and Casper Wells doubled to unload them, pushing the Mariners to a 6-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
An inning later, Seattle even threw the switch on its power game, getting back-to-back solo home runs from Miguel Olivo and Dustin Ackley.
Hisashi Iwakuma’s first major league start was marvelous for three innings, but the man who’d only pitched in long relief until Monday couldn’t stop Baltimore in the fourth inning.
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A two-out single and walk set up a three-run home run by Chris Davis, and a 1-0 Seattle lead was gone. After five, so was Iwakuma, who pitched well enough to be considered for more work in the rotation.
“When people asked what I expected from ‘kuma, I said I expect him to give us the chance to win, and he did that tonight,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He threw one bad pitch, and he got us through five innings with the chance to win.”
From there, however, the Mariners bullpen absolutely dominated the Orioles.
Steve Delabar worked two innings, Shawn Kelley one and Tom Wilhelmsen the ninth – and Baltimore didn’t get a hit against any of them.
“It’s always fun when you win a game and feel like you’re a part of it,” Kelley said. “You can go home with you head held high.”
That kind of relief work kept the Mariners within two runs, although at Safeco Field a two-run deficit often feels like more – especially to the home team.
With a crowd of 14,805 watching it happen, however, the Mariners put together a seventh-inning rally.
Ackley walked. With one out, Munenori Kawasaki singled off the glove of left fielder Steve Pearce and, with two outs, Ichiro Suzuki walked to load ‘em up.
Wells, who returned from an AAA assignment on June 13, went to the plate batting .249.
“Being in Tacoma was like spring training for me,” Wells said. “I got the chance to play every day, against lefties and righties, four battles (at-bats) a night.
“When I came back, I tried to keep my approach simple. Work to get a good pitch, then hit it. You don’t have time to think about anything up there but the pitcher, and you focus on him.”
And this time?
“(Jason) Hammel has a good slider and I saw a lot of it tonight,” he said. “He left one up a little bit and I hit it the other way into right center field.”
As the ball rolled, Ackley, Kawasaki and Ichiro were all waved home by third base coach Jeff Datz, and scored without a throw.
That Safeco Field crowd was on its feet, and sounded almost as stunned as delighted. The Mariners simply haven’t had big hits like that one at home this season.
Yes, the Mariners had squandered a few opportunities early – Mariners fans have seen that before – but they kept putting up threats. With an odd little lineup, the Mariners even manufactured a run early.
Chone Figgins (.186) singled to open the third inning and Kawasaki (.194) bunted him to second base. Brendan Ryan (.184) then singled into center field and Figgins scrambled home for a 1-0 lead.
“Kawasaki was bunting on his own, and in that situation I’m fine with it,” Wedge said. “He was bunting for a hit but, worst case scenario, you get the runner into scoring position. He got it down and we scored.”
Once Davis homered, the ball park grew quiet for three innings, waiting. When Wells delivered his double, the cheers returned – and in the eighth inning, they remained.
With one out out, Olivo hammered his seventh home run of the season deep into the Baltimore bullpen. The next batter, Ackley, followed with a home run deep into the stands in right field.
“That’s the kind of swing that might get him going again,” Wedge said.
“We’ve played an awful lot of close games and won four of our last six,” Kelley said. “We’re playing tough games. We’re winning tough games.”
The win went to Delabar, the save to Wilhelmsen, who is 7-for-7 in save opportunities since sliding into the closer role. As impressive, he’s now pitched 19 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.