The needles in baseball are thrown with far more accuracy than the fastballs, although they don’t hurt as much when they hit a man.
After Chris Bosio had been forced out of two starts this month - a victim of line drives off various parts of his anatomy - teammates suggested he wear catching gear to the mound.
And a week ago, as the Seattle Mariners opened a 10-game home stand, someone pointed out that Mike Blowers’ home-run total was half that of an exteammate - light-hitting shortstop Omar Vizquel.
“How many has he got?” Blowers asked. Told ‘four,’ Blowers cringed. He had two at the time.
On Thursday, Blowers caught Vizquel with what might have been the Mariners’ most important home run of the season - a three-run, eighth-inning bolt that was the difference in Seattle’s 5-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
The winner, untouched by a baseball all game, was Bosio.
“That’s probably the biggest win of the season for us,” manager Lou Piniella said. “I hope to say that a number of times during the summer, but we needed this one.”
They got it against Oakland, the franchise against which Seattle has fared worse than against any other American League team - and the Mariners have played badly against almost everyone. Still, after back-to-back wins in the first two games of this series, the Athletics were 15-3 in their last 18 Kingdome games.
“They stole a ‘W’ from us last night,” Blowers said, remembering an Oakland rally Wednesday night. “It was nice to steal one back.”
Theft it was. Ron Darling took a 2-0 shutout into the seventh inning, and even after Luis Sojo drove home Dan Wilson, Seattle went into the eighth behind, 2-1.
Seattle’s record when trailing after seven innings? It was 3-19 going into the eighth Thursday. The Athletics were already thinking about Dennis Eckersley time.
Two outs into the eighth, the M’s had Joey Cora on second base after being hit by reliever Mark Acre, and Tino Martinez at first base after a walk. Piniella went to his bench and switch-hitter Doug Strange. Though left-hander Rick Honeycutt was ready in the bullpen, Oakland stuck with right-hander Acre.
Strange slapped a single off Mark McGwire’s glove and into right field, scoring Cora with the tying run.
“Doug has probably played well enough to start more games, but he hits so well coming off the bench I hate to not have him there,” Piniella said.
That’s not idle praise. Strange is hitting .500 in the pinch - 6 for 12 - with three RBIs, tied with New York’s Dion James for the most pinch-hits in the league.
Strange’s hit brought up Blowers, and the “Tacoma Kid” hit a 1-0 fastball 419 feet.
“That’s as hard as I can hit a baseball,” Blowers said. “A home run never entered my mind in that situation.”
Then he smiled. “I caught Omar,” he said.
The home run put Bosio ahead, and, after Bobby Ayala worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning - striking out two batters, getting the third on a routine ground ball - the veteran right-hander’s record was 6-1.
“I gave up a couple of early runs and then I just hung in there,” Bosio said. “I don’t go away. Neither does this team. On the field, on the bench, everybody was focused, enthusiastic. I knew if I kept them close, we’d score runs.”
The win was the fifth this season in a game where a loss would have dropped the Mariners below .500 - and Seattle hasn’t dropped under that mark yet. Now 30-29, a fivegame improvement over their 1994 record after 59 games, the Mariners play a three-game series against another division opponent, Texas.
“Wins like this pick a team up, and it might give us a little momentum,” Piniella said. “We need a little winning streak. After losing two more games to Oakland, I know this - I’ll enjoy my dinner tonight.”
“These guys have had our number,” Bosio said of the A’s. “We’ve won a couple, lost a couple. We haven’t really put a string of wins together for a while. It’s time to start grinding these things out. I’ve been struggling, Blowers has been struggling, but this whole team keeps coming out early, working hard, trying to get it going.
“That’s how you win over a long season. You keep working.”
With a pair of doubles, Edgar Martinez ran his hitting streak to 11 games - and matched Cleveland’s Albert Belle for the league lead in two-base hits (22). … A perpetual slow starter, Blowers has 27 RBIs this season in 51 games, though 20 of those RBIs have come in his last 30 games. … In his 56 starts as a Mariner, Bosio’s record is 19-20. … Half of Seattle’s 30 wins have been after trailing. … Since going to the four-man rotation June 20, the Mariners are 5-5. The team’s record since losing Ken Griffey Jr. is 15-17.