SEATTLE – It’s way too soon to think the Seattle Mariners have turned the clock back to their championship seasons. It’s not too soon for success-starved Mariners fans to celebrate a style of play, and early-season results, they haven’t seen on a consistent basis in eight years.
It happened again Friday night at Safeco Field, where the Mariners recorded their fourth come-from-behind victory when they scored five runs in the fifth inning and beat the Detroit Tigers 6-3.
The Mariners (8-3) have won seven of their past eight games, own the best record in the American League and lead the A.L. West by two games over Oakland.
It’s their best 11-game start since the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
They beat the Tigers with a style they’ve not only played since the start of this season, but a game that’s remarkably familiar to the early part of this decade.
Like the small-ball-playing Mariners from 2000-2002, they continued to use speed, timely hitting and unselfish at-bats to harass Tigers starter Justin Verlander, who was unhittable through three innings.
“The message is that we just don’t give up,” manager Don Wakamatsu said.
“It was an easy day to go out there and say, ‘This guy is just unhittable.’ ”
Instead, the Mariners changed their approach against Verlander in the fifth.
They lashed at the first good fastball he threw them and got three straight hits, starting with Adrian Beltre’s leadoff double.
Russell Branyan followed with a single to right field and Jose Lopez added an RBI single to left.
And then, the Mariners harassed their way to four more runs.
Rob Johnson dropped a sacrifice bunt that pushed runners to second and third with one out. Yuniesky Betancourt followed with a bouncer to Brandon Inge at third.
Branyan broke from third base on contact and Inge threw a short hop to the plate that catcher Gerald Laird couldn’t handle.
Branyan came out of the game after that because of a tight back. Wakamatsu didn’t believe it was serious, although he probably won’t play today.
Franklin Gutierrez then pulled off the key play of the inning.
He pushed a bunt between the mound and first base, scoring Lopez and reaching first safely himself when both Verlander and first baseman Miguel Cabrera couldn’t handle it.
Ichiro Suzuki followed with an RBI single to score Betancourt, and Gutierrez scored the fifth run on a wild pitch by Verlander.
“Any time we can manufacture some things and put some pressure on a pitcher, I think it rattles them a little bit,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s nice to be able to get into that situation with our offense.”
On the mound, Seattle ace Felix Hernandez recovered from a three-run hiccup in the third inning and pitched through the sixth inning.
The bullpen appears to have found its seventh-eighth-ninth inning combo with Shawn Kelley, David Aardsma and Brandon Morrow.
They each pitched a scoreless inning to finish it. Morrow threw 11 strikes in 12 pitches, including a 99 mph fastball.
On the bench, the Mariners were a bundle of joy.
After Griffey singled with one out in the eighth, Beltre hit a drive to the left-center field wall that created an eerie memory from the past.
Griffey, by no means as fast as he was in 1995, charged just as hard around the bases as he did 14 years ago on Edgar Martinez’s double in the Kingdome to beat the Yankees.
This time, Griffey slowed down near the plate when on-deck hitter Ronny Cedeno didn’t tell him to slide, and he high-stepped across to score the sixth run.
In the dugout, Carlos Silva acted as if he were getting Griffey’s heart re-started.
Griffey, meanwhile, gave a weight-lifting gesture toward Beltre at second base.
“I’ll take a double,” Beltre said. “I know Griffey was telling me to lift so he can score easier. But he was good enough to score today, so he should be OK.