Leadoff homer in first supports fine pitching
SEATTLE – Ichiro Suzuki hit seven of eight pitches for home runs in batting practice. The show was reminiscent of his prodigious pregame display at the All-Star Game two years ago.
So, can the singles machine really hit home runs just about any time he comes to the plate?
“No way!” Ichiro said with a chuckle through his interpreter.
Yet that was the way surprising Seattle won Thursday. Sensing a pitcher’s duel, Ichiro lined James Shields’ second pitch of the game for a home run and ace Felix Hernandez saved his injury-riddled team with a seven-inning gem in the Mariners’ 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Today was a special case,” said Ichiro, an eight-time All-Star and perennial 200-hit man whose other home run this season tied the career hits record for a Japanese player. “Even before the game started, we could all tell the type of game it was likely to be. I kept thinking, ‘Do your best, Felix! Do your best, Felix!’ ”
It was the 22nd time a leadoff homer was the deciding run in a game, and it was just the second time it happened for the Mariners. Greg Briley’s shot provided the lone run June 19, 1992, against Minnesota.
The win was the second 1-0 victory of the season for the first-place Mariners, who lead the American League with a team ERA of 3.01. Seattle won one 1-0 contest all last season.
The battered Mariners were coming off their ugliest loss of an otherwise surprising first month. They were starting a fourth-string first baseman, and they scored one run while making three errors. Yet Hernandez (3-0) did what aces are supposed to do.
He bulled through another twisting of his previously sprained right ankle to allow four hits and three walks. He struck out seven in his first scoreless outing since June 6 at Boston, 23 starts ago.
The 23-year-old dubbed “King Felix” left to a fittingly royal exit: Thankful teammates swarmed him for hugs and high-fives in the dugout.
“I knew it was going to be a tight game. Shields was dealing,” he said.
David Aardsma pitched a perfect eighth with two strikeouts. Brandon Morrow walked Pat Burrell with one out in the ninth and sent pinch-runner Gabe Kapler to second with a wild pitch. But Morrow got Ben Zobrist to pop out and Dioner Navarro to fly out for his fifth save in five chances.
The Mariners scratched Ronny Cedeno from the lineup because of a strained hamstring. … A lightning strike at Fox Sports Northwest’s operations facility in Atlanta caused an approximately 30-minute interruption in the network’s coverage of the game.