SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners haven’t shown many similarities to their record 2001 team since, well, 2001.
Since then, it’s been a team searching for the formula to return to the playoffs, and that’s been a mostly futile effort. Five times the past 10 years the Mariners finished with losing records, twice losing 101 games.
So forgive anyone for not wanting to compare this year’s Mariners to the team that won 116 games 10 years ago – until Sunday.
The Mariners beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-6 at Safeco Field, coming from behind with four runs in the eighth inning to clinch their sixth straight series victory.
Last time the Mariners won that many series in a row? Yep, 2001.
Sunday’s victory, delivered by Miguel Olivo’s three-run home run with two outs in the eighth, gave the Mariners a 7-3 homestand.
“It was a good homestand, but we look at it more series-to-series,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We’re in the business of working hard to win series.”
The Mariners, 31-28, have won 15 of their past 20 games and are 23-13 over a 36-game stretch.
What has changed? The roster, for one thing.
On May 9, one day after the Mariners had lost two of three at home to the White Sox to put them three games below .500, they designated ineffective left fielder Milton Bradley and little-used outfielder Ryan Langerhans for assignment and decided to go young in the outfield by calling up Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson.
They lost their next four after that – three at Baltimore and one at Cleveland – before launching into their current hot streak. They won three of four at home against the Twins and Angels, swept three from the Padres in San Diego and won two of three at Minnesota.
That brought the Mariners to their latest homestand, and they beat the Yankees and Orioles two of three each, then the Rays three of four when they unloaded some offense by outscoring Tampa Bay 26-13.
They won close games – six of the past 15 by one run – and showed an ability to score late. Sunday became a classic example of that after the Rays smacked Mariners reliever Jamey Wright for three runs in the top of the eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth against Rays reliever J.P. Howell, Justin Smoak drew a one-out walk, Jack Cust bounced an opposite-field single against the Rays’ right-side defensive shift and Adam Kennedy continued his clutch hitting with an RBI single.
The Rays turned to right-hander Joel Peralta, who hung a two-strike changeup the previous day that Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo hit for a home run.
This time Olivo got ahead 2-0 in the count and Peralta threw that changeup again. And Olivo crushed it again, 394 feet over the Rays’ bullpen beyond the left-field fence. The three-run pop, Olivo’s third home run in the past three games, gave the Mariners a three-run lead
“Everybody hopes to come up with the chance to help the team win,” said Olivo, who has seven home runs. “I feel better now than I did in April. I kept working and working and now I’m seeing the ball better, putting better at-bats together.”
Wedge was more descriptive than that, calling Olivo a big-game hitter.
“He’s had a lot of big hits in his career and he wants to be up there in those situations,” Wedge said.
Rookie Greg Halman, called up Thursday, made a huge contribution in his first major league game since a late-September call-up last year. He went 3 for 4 and drove home two runs with a two-out triple in the seventh inning.