SEATTLE – Nobody with the Seattle Mariners wants to think about the 2008 season, much less re-live it.
But as a matter of perspective, it’s important to look back a year just to measure how far the Mariners have come in such a short time.
This year’s Mariners arrived at the All-Star break Sunday by winning their 46th game, a 5-3 victory over the Texas Rangers that left them four games behind the first-place Angels in the American League West Division.
Last year, the Mariners didn’t win their 46th until Aug. 13, and that pulled them within 29½ of first place.
“The last few years at the half, we’ve already been in the casket,” right fielder Ichiro Suzuki said.
Sunday, the Mariners remained living, breathing contenders in the division by providing an on-field example of how different – and more successful – this team is.
Erik Bedard wobbled his way through 5 2/3 innings but allowed only three hits and two runs before a cast of lovable characters picked him up.
Miguel Batista, proving that timing is everything, gave up a two-run homer in the sixth inning that tied the score 3-3 but became the winning pitcher when the Mariners rallied in the seventh with an assortment of bloops and bleeders that gave them the lead. Batista (6-3) has as many victories as Jarrod Washburn.
Pinch-hitter Chris Shelton’s broken-bat single to left field drove home pinch-runner Josh Wilson with the go-ahead run, and Rob Johnson followed with another flare hit to left that made the score 5-3.
Then the Mariners followed with a relief pitching tandem that has come to own the eighth and ninth innings.
Mark Lowe pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, finishing it by striking out Hank Blalock. And David Aardsma, who started the season as Brandon Morrow’s setup man, recorded not only his third save of the series but his 20th save this season.
Try processing that.
“I definitely wasn’t imagining it when we started the season and Brandon was the closer,” Aardsma said. “When they announced he was the closer, I didn’t know if I would ever get a chance. I don’t want to stop here. I want to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Ditto 24 other players.
The Mariners won three of four games from a Rangers team had arrived in Seattle with the A.L. West lead. As manager Don Wakamatsu is fond of saying, there’s a “belief system” that they can continue to contend when the games become really meaningful after the All-Star break.
Ichiro says there is a balance on this team, both in the clubhouse and on the field, that makes it special.
Every player in the lineup was involved in scoring a run or making an important defensive play, or both. Ichiro had two hits, scored once and drove in a run. Russell Branyan drew a walk in the fourth inning the pushed home a run. Jose Lopez had a first-inning RBI and Ken Griffey Jr. started the seventh-inning rally with his infield hit.
Franklin Gutierrez made two catches in center field that may have saved runs, including a diving grab in the first inning that he turned into a double play. Left fielder Ryan Langerhans, acquired two weeks ago from the Nationals, had two hits and scored once; Johnson had an RBI single in the seventh; Jack Hannahan committed two errors at third base but started a double play in the second inning and snagged a hard smash by Marlon Byrd to get the first out in the ninth; and Ronny Cedeno nudged his average to .168 (it was .117 on June 27) with a single and a double.
“Everybody contributed and that’s what we’ve been doing most of the year,” Wakamatsu said.
What a difference from 2008, and what a change. Sixteen of the Mariners’ 25 players weren’t with the team at the All-Star break last year.
“Again, the balance is coming in,” Ichiro said. “If we were winning one way, it would be hard to say we are a good team. But with so many people contributing, it shows that we are a good team.”
Mariners 5, Rangers 3
|Griffey Jr. dh||3||0||1||0||1||0||.222|
a-singled for Langerhans in the 7th. b-walked for Teagarden in the 9th. 1-ran for Griffey Jr. in the 7th. 2-ran for Shelton in the 7th.
E—Hannahan 2 (6). LOB—Texas 6, Seattle 10. 2B—Jo.Lopez (18), Cedeno (3). HR—Blalock (19), off Bedard; N.Cruz (22), off Batista. RBIs—Blalock 2 (42), N.Cruz (53), I.Suzuki (24), Branyan (49), Jo.Lopez (51), Shelton (1), Ro.Johnson (19). RLSP—Texas 2 (Teagarden, N.Cruz); Seattle 6 (Ro.Johnson 2, Jo.Lopez 2, I.Suzuki, Hannahan). GIDP—Teagarden. DP—Seattle 2 (F.Gutierrez, Jo.Lopez), (Hannahan, Jo.Lopez, Branyan).
|O’Day L, 2-1||1/3||2||2||2||0||0||9||1.93|
|Batista W, 6-3 BS, 3-3||1 1/3||1||1||1||0||1||9||3.33|
|M.Lowe H, 13||1||0||0||0||0||1||10||3.24|
|Aardsma S, 20-22||1||0||0||0||1||1||19||1.96|
IR-S—Holland 3-2, C.Wilson 2-2, Jennings 1-0. T—2:51. A—33,220 (47,878).