SEATTLE – It’s no longer early, apparently.
All the mitigations and qualifiers that were attached to the Seattle Mariners’ slow start – 2-6 to open the season – have been washed away in the undertow of a three-game winning streak, easily the most impressive of which was an 11-3 romp over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night at Safeco Field.
You read that right – 11 runs. And a dozen hits. Plus the usual exceptional defense.
Oh, and a just-short-of-overpowering pitching performance by Felix Hernandez.
In his 2010 Safeco debut – and first since signing a five-year, $78 million contract – Hernandez shut down Detroit’s dangerous lineup with a startling and slightly different array of pitches and earned his first victory of the season after two solid starts previously had produced wins for Seattle but no decisions for the 24-year-old right-hander.
“He’s just blessed,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. “He’s one of those kids that is just blessed with extraordinary talent. He’s very aggressive and he’s got a nice turn. He’s got electric stuff.”
And if Seattle’s offense wasn’t quite as electric, at was at least efficient.
Franklin Gutierrez – Seattle’s only offensive producer through the first week of the season – kept up the pace with a three-hit game and three RBIs. Every Mariners starter managed a base hit except Jack Wilson, who sacrificed twice, and Chone Figgins, who reached three times on walks.
And the Mariners set season highs for runs and hits in a game and an innings, much to the delight of the 39,999 fans who turned out – just two nights after Safeco was a cavernous host to the second- smallest crowd in its history.
All in all, it was enough to suggest that fortunes have turned for the Mariners, though notably there was but a lone extra-base hit – Gutierrez’s spectacular triple that keyed a three-run third inning. Otherwise, the M’s went small – bunching four straight singles in the fifth inning alone – and were helped along by three Detroit errors.
But however they did it, it was more than enough to make certain Hernandez got his just rewards. And the outcome was assured early enough that he could give Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu a smirk and a small argument when the manager came to take him out with two outs in the seventh inning.
But then, when doesn’t he give Wakamatsu a hard time?
“Every time, every time,” Hernandez joked. “I don’t like to go out. I like to stay in the game. I ask, ‘Why take me out? I only throw 105 pitches.’ He said you spent too long in the dugout. All right, good reason why.”
Laughed Wakamatsu, “It’s part of the job.”
Hernandez was perfect through three innings and nearly untouchable, striking out five of the first nine batters and reaching 97 mph on the radar gun. Then, staked to a 3-0 lead, he seemed to ease off the gas and surrendered five hard-hit balls in the third, including a two-run double by Miguel Cabrera. The fourth didn’t start out much better – a walk to light-hitting Gerald Laird – but a double play erased him and Hernandez cruised on until tiring in the seventh.
“Everything was good – everything was working tonight,” Hernandez said.
“Usually, you get a lot of straight-down action or diving-down-and-in action,” catcher Rob Johnson said, “but his ball was actually cutting a lot tonight, which is not normal for him and it makes it really difficult to catch. We call it an ‘air cutter’ – it catches the air with the seams and takes off in the opposite direction, by accident.”
“Effective off my shin,” he said.
Effective was certainly the word for the M’s approach against Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman. The Pasco resident had a solid first outing in beating Cleveland last week, but couldn’t hold it together here. Down just a run in the fourth inning, Laird’s wild throw of Wilson’s bunt opened the door to a two-run Mariners fourth before the Mariners broke it open in the fifth.
Mariners 11, Tigers 3
|Griffey Jr. dh||4||1||2||0||0||0||.261|
E—Bonderman (1), Laird (1), S.Sizemore (3). LOB—Detroit 6, Seattle 9. 2B—Mi.Cabrera (2), C.Guillen (3), Laird (2). 3B—F.Gutierrez (1). RBIs—Mi.Cabrera 2 (11), S.Sizemore (4), I.Suzuki (2), Figgins (3), F.Gutierrez 3 (6), Jo.Lopez 2 (3), Bradley (8), Ro.Johnson (2), J.Wilson (2). SB—I.Suzuki (2), Figgins (3). S—J.Wilson. SF—Figgins, Jo.Lopez, J.Wilson. RLISP—Detroit 4 (Inge, S.Sizemore 2, Mi.Cabrera); Seattle 5 (Jo.Lopez, Bradley, F.Gutierrez, Griffey Jr., I.Suzuki). RMU—Avila. GIDP—S.Sizemore. DP—Seattle 1 (F.Hernandez, J.Wilson, Kotchman).
|F.Hernandez W,1-0||6 2/3||4||2||2||2||9||3.10|
PB—Ro.Johnson. T—2:57. A—39,999 (47,878).