It would have been easy to get caught up in the battle of two pitchers who want nothing more than to throw strikes more often than anyone else.
And it lived up to its billing as the Texas battler Bob Tewksbury, the game’s best control pitcher, went against Seattle’s American League strikeout king Randy Johnson.
But in the end, it was the little guy from Puerto Rico who left the winning impression on 19,404 fans in the Kingdome on Sunday afternoon.
Joey Cora’s two-out single up the middle in the ninth inning off Matt Whiteside drove in Felix Fermin with the game-winner as Seattle defeated Texas, 4-3.
The victory boosts the Mariners to within three games of the top spot in the A.L. West, currently held by both Texas and California. Seattle heads off to Detroit for a three-game series beginning today.
“I’m glad to do something to help the team win,” said Cora, the exSpokane infielder who had his first game-winning hit for the Mariners.
Johnson, who earlier in the day was selected to his third consecutive All-Star game, showed both his bad stuff and his good stuff, fanning eight Rangers but walking four and hitting a batter.
“He looked pretty good to me,” Texas manager Johnny Oates said. “Except for an infielder pulling off the bag he had a shutout through six innings.”
Still, Johnson left ahead 3-1 after giving up a leadoff single in the seventh inning. He had thrown 122 pitches.
“Randy was in there to get one more out, and Dave Valle singled,” Seattle manager Lou Piniella said.
Reliever Bill Risley came in and promptly gave up a two-run shot to the first batter he faced, Juan Gonzalez.
“Gonzalez got something good to hit,” Cora said. “He did his job, but I’m glad we won. If they had won, it would have been a downer going on the road.”
Johnson got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning by getting Ivan Rodriguez on a comebacker to the mound.
He was on the verge of escaping the same predicament an inning later before Fermin’s errant throw to second base pulled Cora off the bag, allowing Luis Ortiz to score.
Seattle rebounded from that 1-0 deficit with two runs in the second inning off Tewksbury.
After Jay Buhner singled to open the inning, Darren Bragg followed with a chopper in the hole at shortstop. Benji Gil’s off-balance throw to get Buhner at second wasn’t close, and sailed into the Texas bullpen down the right field line.
Buhner scored on the error, and Mike Blowers singled up the middle to score Bragg.
The Mariners added another run in the third when Bragg’s two-out double scored Edgar Martinez.
Still, Tewksbury hung around long enough to salvage his own no-decision when he departed with no outs in the eighth inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, Mariners catcher Dan Wilson doubled and was replaced by Rich Amaral as a pinch runner. Fermin’s bunt back to Matt Whiteside got Amaral in a rundown between second and third.
Alex Diaz lined out to Esteban Beltre at second base before Cora stepped up and delivered.
“There’s no quit here,” Piniella said of his Mariners who just completed a 10-game homestand against the other three teams in the A.L. West. “We didn’t hit with men in scoring position, but we get out of here with a split (5-5) with three good teams.”