SEATTLE —Kenji Johjima’s arms were folded across his chest as he sat up straight at his locker. His two young boys scurried around him as the proud veteran with graying at the temples held his head high.
Finally, for one night at least, Johjima’s spirits matched his posture.
The recently mothballed catcher hit his first home run since May, a tie-breaking two-run shot in the sixth inning, to send the surging Seattle Mariners past the Chicago White Sox 6-4 on Monday night.
Seattle, which lost 101 games last season, won for the fifth time in seven games to stay 4 1/2 games behind Boston in the A.L. wild-card standings. The Mariners (59-53) haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001. They didn’t win their 59th game in 2008 until the last weekend of the season.
“Other people are starting to take us seriously,” closer David Aardsma said after recording his 27th save in 29 chances. “Pretty soon, teams started losing and we’re right in the middle of it.”
Playing on consecutive days for the first time since July 4-5, Johjima hit the third pitch of the game from reliever Tony Pena for his first home run since May 25 – the day before he went on the disabled list for a month with a broken toe. He then lost the job he’s held since arriving from Japan in 2006.
The 33-year-old has played in just 17 games since then, as Seattle has chosen to have its established starting pitchers work with young catcher Rob Johnson. That’s left the veteran, to whom the Mariners’ Japanese ownership gave a three-year, $24 million contract extension last season, on the bench for the first time since he became the starting catcher for Fukuoka in Japan in 1997.
“It’s a very difficult situation that I’m in right now, because I need to perform when I get the chance,” Johjima said through an interpreter. “When I see the lineup and my name’s not in it, it’s quite depressing, quite sad. And I’ve seen it a lot of times.
“It’s my fault. I got hurt.”
Reliever Sean White (3-2) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings before Mark Lowe pitched a perfect eighth. Aardsma allowed a leadoff single to Alexei Ramirez in the ninth but retired pinch-hitters Mark Kotsay on a fly out and A.J. Pierzynski on a double play.
The White Sox stayed three games behind first-place Detroit, which also lost, in the A.L. Central.
“They way they are playing, they play better than we do,” Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Carlos Quentin had two doubles, including a two-run liner with the bases loaded in the sixth off White that gave Chicago a brief, 4-3 lead. The run was the fourth and last charged to rookie starter Luke French.
Russell Branyan tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth with a searing solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from Gavin Floyd. Branyan extended his career high with his 27th homer.
Floyd left after he walked the next batter, Jack Wilson, on his season-high 117th pitch. Johjima greeted Pena with his fourth homer, onto a stairway far beyond Chicago’s left-field bullpen.
“He’ll start (today),” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said, smiling.
Part of the reason is because Seattle’s Doug Fister will be making his first big-league start.
When asked if he senses he been relegated to catching the new pitchers while Johnson gets the ones who have been around, Johjima’s voice filled with doubt.
“I don’t really know if I’m struggling offensively or defensively to be honest with you,” he said. “I’ve got to play (to know).”
Floyd (9-7) allowed seven hits and five runs in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out four and walked three while losing for only the second time since May 27.
Jermaine Dye went 0 for 3. He flied out to end the seventh as the potential tying run. Dye has two hits in his past 21 at-bats and is batting .138 in his last 17 games.
Designated hitter Jim Thome went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts batting cleanup immediately behind Dye.
French, acquired from Detroit on July 31 in the trade of veteran starter Jarrod Washburn, allowed three hits but walked six in 5 1/3 innings of his Seattle home debut.