SEATTLE – When Shawn Kelley joined the Seattle Mariners nearly two weeks ago to resume his recovery from elbow surgery, the team he witnessed in person was nothing like the cousin of the 101-loss Mariners of last year, despite a brutal, bumbling start.
What Kelley saw was a group of players who pulled for each other through good games and bad, who didn’t lose confidence in themselves despite the poor start, who gained a real belief in what they’re capable of doing during a 6-1 road trip that included two tight wins last weekend at Boston.
“It’s starting to feel like 2009 in here,” Kelley said.
Tuesday, in a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers, the M’s continued to make a statement that they will improve like the 2009 team and not fall apart like they did in 2010.
It’s still very early, but the victory – combined with the first-place Angels’ loss at Boston – pulled the Mariners within two games of first place in the A.L. West.
Of course, they’re also still last in a tight division, but they’re playing better than they were a month ago.
Seattle got quality pitching, including five no-hit innings by starter Erik Bedard, scored key runs in the seventh and eighth innings and finished with closer Brandon League’s eighth save in eight opportunities.
In the process, the Mariners played crisp situational baseball when they needed it most, moving runners with sacrifice bunts and delivering clutch hits.
Justin Smoak’s ground-rule double in the third inning scored Ichiro Suzuki to tie the score 1-1. Ichiro’s double-play grounder in the seventh pushed home a run to make the score 2-2. And, in the eighth after the Rangers had scored off reliever David Pauley to lead 3-2, the Mariners executed.
Adam Kennedy led off with a bloop single and Miguel Olivo’s attempt at a sacrifice bunt became an infield hit when Rangers reliever Pedro Strop slipped.
Smoak followed with an RBI single to re-tie the score and Jack Cust lined another hit past a drawn-in Rangers infield to score Olivo with the go-ahead run.
Someone mentioned to manager Eric Wedge the Mariners’ recent spate of resilience, and he corrected that observation.
“It’s more a factor of how these guys have played all year,” Wedge said. “There’s a lot of energy in the dugout. They’re pulling for each other. They’ve competed from the first inning of the first game of the year. When you keep pushing, good things are going to happen.”