SEATTLE – Of all the developments that might have gone sour for the Mariners on Monday night at Safeco Field, home runs by Vernon Wells didn’t figure prominently in the possibilities.
Yet it was Wells, the high-priced outfielder, who twice victimized Mariners right-hander Jason Vargas, and the two long balls won the opener of a three-game series for the Angels over Seattle, 6-3.
The Mariners, playing their 18th game in as many days, held a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning when it all came unraveled, thanks to a misplay at the plate by one of the guys who has recently carried the club, Miguel Olivo.
Jeff Mathis had led off the inning with a double for the Angels, and he was at third with one out when Torii Hunter hit a grounder to Chone Figgins at third. Figgins fired a strike to Olivo at the plate, and Olivo’s tag was in plenty of time to nail Mathis. But as Olivo’s glove met Mathis’ chest, the mild collision dislodged the ball and Mathis was safe, with Hunter reaching on a fielder’s choice.
Bobby Abreu’s fly out should have ended the inning. But Wells, who was hitting .188 earlier in the game, nailed Vargas’ 103rd pitch of the night over the left-field wall, and the Angels had a two-run lead.
Not only had Wells been struggling much of the season – including a four-week stint on the disabled list with a groin strain – but the Angels had hit a single homer in June entering the game.
In about 75 minutes, Wells doubled that total himself.
The two teams settled into a close duel befitting struggling offenses. The Angels came into the game having been held to three or fewer runs in 10 of their last 11 games, and dragging a 1-7 record in their last eight.
Despite a couple of outbursts on their recent seven-game road trip, the Mariners have been similarly bat-challenged, their .228 average the lowest in the major leagues.
The Mariners took an early 2-1 lead. With two outs in the Angels’ third, however, the lead was gone. Wells bashed a room-service pitch from Vargas far over the left-field fence to tie it. Before the bomb, the Angels had gone 62 straight innings without one.
The Mariners took a 3-2 lead in the fifth behind a couple of their recently maligned players. Figgins stroked a double to right, and Ichiro Suzuki followed with his sixth hit in the last three games, a nicely placed bunt down the third-base line that Maicer Izturis couldn’t handle. Brendan Ryan’s sacrifice fly scored Figgins.
Los Angeles gave closer Jordan Walden more breathing room in the eighth when Abreu dunked a single to center to score Izturis, making it a three-run cushion.