Sports

Tough stretch awaits M’s

SEATTLE – That soft bubble in the schedule the Seattle Mariners took advantage of during the last month to eclipse the .500 mark is done.

Now comes the real challenge to see how long this surprise team can stick around in the A.L. West race.

Ichiro Suzuki lined the 29th leadoff homer of his career into the right-field seats and finished a triple short of the cycle, and the Mariners gave starter Jarrod Washburn his first win in more than two months, 9-3 over the San Diego Padres on Thursday afternoon.

The win came as the Mariners headed out of town on a brutal nine-game road trip at the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox that may determine Seattle’s course for the rest of the season.

Seattle took two of three from San Diego and spent the previous month taking series from the likes of Baltimore, Arizona and a pair from the Padres, winning seven of its last eight series after dipping to a season-low of 21-26 on May 26.

“It is for sure that we have made progress,” Ichiro said through an interpreter.

At two games better than .500 at 37-35, the Mariners sound ready for their road test.

“We’re going to be playing three of the best teams in baseball the next week and a half. Hopefully, we’ll play good ball and it’ll put us in position around the All-Star break to be buyers, not sellers,” said Mike Sweeney, who recorded his first four-hit day in nearly three years. “We’re playing good baseball.”

Ichiro hit the third pitch from San Diego starter Wade LeBlanc (0-1) for his sixth homer of the season. He added a double in the second and single in the fourth, but grounded out and reached on an infield hit in his final two at-bats. It was his third four-hit game of the season.

Rob Johnson added a three-run double in Seattle’s four-run first, Wladimir Balentien hit a solo homer in the fifth and Sweeney capped his day with a two-run single as the Mariners finally gave Washburn (4-5) some run support.

This was an offensive outburst Washburn isn’t use to. Averaging just 4.27 runs of support in his Mariners career – lowest among A.L. starters – Washburn worked liberally. He gave up hits and allowed runners in scoring position in four of his six innings, but kept the Padres scoreless until Chase Headley’s two-run homer in the sixth.

Washburn allowed six hits and struck out six, winning for the first time since April 21.

He was 0-2 in his previous five starts, despite a 2.25 ERA.

“I told (Johnson) as soon as he got that hit I said to myself, ‘Game over,’ ” Washburn said. “I just had to go out and make pitches. For the most part I did that.”

Seattle headed for the road after taking full advantage of LeBlanc, making just his second start this season.



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