SEATTLE – Brendan Ryan’s introduction to the American League has gone much the way others who’ve come to the Seattle Mariners after spending their careers facing National League pitchers.
Not so good.
The learning curve left him floundering to bat .200 the first six weeks of the season and, despite raising the average to a high of .282 by the end of May, he entered Friday’s game having gone 1-for-11 on the Mariners’ current homestand.
But Friday also brought the comfort of interleague play and a pitcher Ryan handled well during his days with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He entered the game with a .357 career average against Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt, and he drove home two runs in the Mariners’ 4-2 victory at Safeco Field.
Ryan tripled in the third inning to score Ichiro Suzuki, walked in the fifth to set up Justin Smoak’s sacrifice fly that scored Ichiro, and singled in the seventh – again scoring Ichiro.
Ryan is batting .412 off Oswalt.
“I wouldn’t say I’m real comfortable against him,” Ryan said. “But I’ve seen him quite a bit. You try to come up with a good game plan, but a guy like that he can still get you out four, five times. The key against him is getting a good pitch to hit.”
It took a near-flawless performance by the Mariners – Ryan’s clutch hits, Ichiro’s 3-for-4 three-run game, pitching that held the Phillies to six hits and infield defense that snuffed potential rallies – to win against a team whose 44 victories are the most in the majors.
The Mariners’ young players figured large in the victory – starting pitcher Michael Pineda holding the Phillies hitless through 5 2/3 innings and second baseman Dustin Ackley getting a hit off Oswalt in his first major league at-bat.
Pineda allowed a run in the sixth before exiting, and Ackley helped the Mariners turn a critical around-the-horn double play in the eighth inning on a grounder by Jimmy Rollins that third baseman Chone Figgins fielded behind the bag.
“I don’t know what they’re teaching down in the minors,” Ryan said. “But you get Pineda and Akley, these guys all come up and have really good poise. I know my first day, I was a mess. They’re both very calm and act like they’ve been there before.”
He called the Figgins/Ackley combo on the double play as the game’s most important moment.
“It’s a guy at the top of their lineup and not an easy play from end to end,” Ryan said. “It’s not a terribly hard-hit ball, Figgy’s got to go to his right and he’s on the chalk. It’s a tough spin for Ak and it’s his first game. That was absolutely huge.”
It became bigger when the next hitter, Shane Victorino, drove a pitch from reliever Aaron Laffey over the left-field fence for a solo home run, cutting the Mariners’ lead to 4-2.
Ichiro singled with one out in the third and scored on Ryan’s triple to right-center for a 1-0 lead, and Miguel Olivo hit a solo home run in the fourth.
Ichiro’s leadoff single in the fifth, followed by Ryan’s walk, set up a sacrifice bunt by No. 3 hitter Adam Kennedy and then Justin Smoak’s not-so-traditional sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley caught Smoak’s popup down the right-field line but, with his momentum taking him away from home plate, he couldn’t make a strong enough throw to get Ichiro.
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