CLEVELAND – Don Wakamatsu couldn’t watch.
David Aardsma, who threw it, had a sickening first thought that it was going out of the ballpark. Tie score.
Victor Martinez, who hit it, thought so, too. But then he remembered who was out in right field.
That would be Ichiro Suzuki, who raced down Martinez’s two-out, ninth-inning drive with a leaping catch at the right-field wall Sunday to preserve the Mariners’ 5-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
“The only thing that was in my mind as soon the ball made contact with the bat was to catch it,” Ichiro said afterward, through interpreter Ken Barron. “Just like a dog chasing after a Frisbee.”
Ichiro caught it with his glove, not his mouth, but the result was the same: The Mariners, after an ugly loss to start the series, won the next three to move six games over .500 for just the second time this season. The other was when they were 12-6 on April 25.
“I don’t care who it’s against or where, it shows again the character of the ballclub, and the fight in it,” Wakamatsu said of the Mariners’ rebound.
One of Wakamatsu’s best decisions of the day was to change his mind about sitting Russell Branyan. The struggling first baseman, fighting through back pain, talked his way into the lineup and promptly hit a two-run homer in the first off Cleveland starter Aaron Laffey.
“You have me to thank for that,” Wakamatsu told Branyan in the dugout after he had toured the bases.
“I needed to play through it,” Branyan said. “It’s been pretty painful these four days or so. I think it’s progressing, and I need to get out there and move around and play.
“He was kind of set on giving me a day off. Ultimately, it was his decision. If he wanted to sit me today, I wouldn’t have been upset. I enjoy playing. I spent a lot of my career on the bench. For me, it wasn’t a fun place to be.”
With Franklin Gutierrez adding a run-scoring single, the Mariners staked starter Erik Bedard to a 3-0 lead in the first. But Bedard stumbled in the second, giving up a two-run homer to Ben Francisco.
Bedard, in his third start since spending a month on the disabled list, struggled with his command, needing 93 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings.
However, Bedard was on the verge of getting through the fifth with a lead when Jose Lopez let Martinez’s broken-bat, spinning grounder get under his glove for an error. Grady Sizemore raced home from second with the tying run.
The Mariners broke the tie in the eighth, a textbook example of manufacturing a run. Gutierrez led off with a single and stole second. Rob Johnson worked a walk after starting down 0-2 in the count. Ryan Langerhans moved the runners up with a sacrifice, and pinch-hitter Jack Hannahan brought the run home with a sacrifice fly.
After the Mariners added an insurance run in the ninth, Aardsma seemed on the way to an easy 22nd save. He got two quick outs before walking Shin-Soo Choo on a 3-2 pitch. Then Martinez hit his blast to right.
“You know, he’s a decent hitter, and right off the bat it was out, but you never know with Ichiro back there,” Aardsma said. “Ichiro made a great play on it. He made an awesome play.”
Not that Wakamatsu could vouch for that.
“I didn’t look,” he said. “You look at the reaction of the hitter, and I think he thought he got it. I actually didn’t see the catch. You always feel comfortable with him in right field that he’s going to make a great catch or climb the wall.”
When asked to go through the play, Ichiro quipped, “There was a runner on first, there was a fly ball, and I caught it.”
Something like that. But nothing like that.