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Mariners win on 9th inning homer

Sat., March 7, 2009, 5:29 p.m.

PHOENIX — Mike Sweeney wanted to get out on the baseball field again and he wanted his new Mariners teammates to win. He got both wishes Saturday.

Sweeney, who signed a minor league contract with Seattle after undergoing surgery on both knees last year, went 0-for-2 with a walk as the designated hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the Mariners pulled out an 8-7 victory on a two-out, two-strike, two-run homer by Bryan LeHair in the ninth inning.

“I think this is like my 19th spring training so I don’t get butterflies anymore,” said Sweeney, who played only two games with Oakland after May 28 last season and seriously considered retirement. “But it was a joy to be out in the field playing baseball.”

On one at-bat, when Sweeney flied out, he kept jogging toward second base even after the putout.

“Traditionally, I would have ran and veered off. But I did like a Forrest Gump. … I just kept running,” he said. “I wanted to see how it felt rounding the base and jogging halfway to second base. It was fine. It felt good.”

In other news, Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Manny Ramirez “is on track” to make his spring training debut Thursday in a WBC tuneup against Japan or South Korea.

The Dodgers got three strong innings from starting pitcher Chad Billingsley (three hits, three strikeouts) and another two from Shawn Estes (one hit, one run) as they built a 7-2 lead by the sixth. Casey Blake, who returned to the lineup as a designated hitter after missing a week with a groin strain, had two hits, including an RBI single, and Juan Pierre added two singles and two RBIs.

“That was the best I’ve felt overall as far as mechanics. My curveball was really sharp,” said Billingsley, an opening-day candidate who has allowed just one run and seven innings this spring. “It would be nice, but it doesn’t matter. It would be an honor, it would be special, but I’m going to get the ball 30 times either way.”

Brent Johnson’s two-run single highlighted a four-run eighth to get the Mariners within a run. LeHair finished the rally with his homer to left off Victor Garate, who was brought in for that at-bat.

“This is the time when you make your decisions,” Torre said. “If everyone pitched and played well, you’d start the season with 60 players. A lefty was hitting, and when you’re making a decision on (Garate), you give him a chance in the situation you envision him pitching in.”

Wladmir Balentien hit a solo homer for Seattle, which had 12 hits.

Notes: Torre said Blake was ready and would soon play the field. … Dodgers RHP Jason Schmidt had a strong bullpen session and will make his Cactus League debut Monday at the Rangers or Tuesday against the Diamondbacks. … The crowd of 11,896 was the largest in the weeklong history of the ballpark. … OF Ken Griffey Jr. will make his second appearance for Seattle on Sunday in Peoria against the Diamondbacks. … RHP Gaby Hernandez started for Seattle in place of RHP Brandon Morrow, who skipped a turn due to shoulder stiffness. … Dodgers LHP Hong-Chih Kuo will make his first appearance of the spring in a “B” game against the White Sox on Monday.


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