SEATTLE – Look at the American League’s ERA rankings. There’s Jason Vargas, among Andy Pettitte, Cliff Lee, Francisco Liriano and other far more acclaimed stars.
The Marlins and Mets castoff didn’t know that. All he knows is Bert, Ernie and Big Bird.
“I haven’t noticed, but now that you brought it up that’s a nice feeling to have,” Vargas said after allowing four hits in seven innings for Seattle on Tuesday night and lowering his ERA to 2.66, sixth-best in the A.L. “I’m not a computer guy, and I’ve got a 2-year-old son at home. So we watch cartoons a lot. … ‘Sesame Street.’”
The forgotten left-hander who battled a bad hip for years and then had to sweat out a Mariners roster spot in spring training won his fourth straight decision. Franklin Gutierrez homered to help send Seattle to its season-high fifth consecutive victory, 2-0 over the Chicago Cubs.
The Mariners have scored 11 runs during their winning streak, their longest since winning six in a row April 9-15, 2009. Five of those runs came in one game.
Who needs offense when you have pitching like this?
Seattle has allowed two runs in the past five games, tying a team record set in September 2001 – a season in which the Mariners won an A.L.-record 116 games.
“It’s pretty phenomenal to watch,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
Brandon League and David Aardsma finished the six-hitter. Aardsma, a Cub in 2006, walked Geovany Soto and allowed a single to Alfonso Soriano with two outs in the ninth. But the right-hander struck out Tyler Colvin swinging at a 96 mph fastball for his 16th save in 20 chances.
Ryan Dempster (5-6) yielded five hits in his 11th career complete game and first since Sept. 29 for the Cubs.
His problem was that he allowed a leadoff single to Jose Lopez in the second, then left a 91 mph fastball over the plate that was supposed to be inside. Gutierrez hammered that for his sixth homer of the season, and first since May 25.
Chicago lost for the third time in four games.
“You give up a couple of runs, you expect to win,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, bemoaning his inconsistent offense.
The Cubs immediately got League in trouble in the eighth with a walk by Starlin Castro and a single by Ryan Theriot. But the ground-ball specialist got Marlon Byrd, who had two hits off Vargas, to chop into a double play. Byrd punched the air in frustration.
Pinch-hitter Chad Tracy then popped out, and the shutout stayed intact.
Vargas (6-2) had seven strikeouts, one short of his career high, by using a new cut fastball and a faster pace. He’s learned both recently from Lee, who is just ahead of Vargas in ERA and will try to continue Seattle’s roll today.
The fastest pitch Vargas threw was 88 mph. But his location was exquisite – Jeff Baker watched that fastball for strike three on the inside corner to end the sixth.
Soriano squandered an earlier prime chance for Chicago. He doubled leading off the fifth. Then he rounded third unaware that left fielder Michael Saunders had drifted into left-center field to easily catch Colvin’s line drive. Saunders, who later said Soriano must have either thought he was positioned somewhere else or that there were two outs, walked halfway to second. He could have gone all the way for the unassisted double play but flipped the ball there instead.
“I thought the ball was going to bounce to the left fielder,” Soriano said. “But Colvin hit it pretty hard and (Saunders) caught the ball.”
The owner of six All-Star appearances and a $136 million contract walked off the field looking bewildered. He remained that way in the dugout while talking to teammates.
The many Cubs fans at Safeco Field booed Mariners slugger Milton Bradley each time he came to the plate. They loved it when he struck out twice. He also walked and flied out, dropping his average to .211. Chicago traded Bradley for Carlos Silva just one failed season into his $30 million, three-year contract with the Cubs. … This was the Cubs’ first game in Seattle since 2002, and Piniella’s first in Seattle since 2005 when he was in his final season managing Tampa Bay.