SEATTLE – Throughout a miserable two weeks before this critical weekend by the Mariners, it seemed at times like Jason Bay was the only hitter consistently putting together quality at-bats.
Bay would work himself deep into counts, or reverse them in his favor, while keeping an eye out for the one pitch he could drive. And after his tying home run Sunday helped propel the Mariners to a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, the veteran outfielder talked about the need for his teammates to take care of their own business first before worrying about the drama going on around them.
“You know, this is probably the biggest individual team sport around,” Bay said after the Mariners took three of four from the Angels for their first series victory this season. “I say that with all seriousness.
“Everybody has certain things they have to do to take care. And I think when you start letting external factors dictate what you’re doing, that’s where you start to get away from who you are and what you do.”
The homer by Bay set the stage for Michael Morse to go deep in the eighth inning off former Mariners starter Jason Vargas to snap the 1-1 tie. It was the first home run since April 9 by Morse, who broke his pinkie finger shortly after that and has taken time rounding back into form.
Bay said he felt his teammates played much more within themselves this series, which they came a few missed opportunities Friday night away from sweeping. The hard-fought victory in the finale, in front of 20,638 at Safeco Field, should help the Mariners steady themselves after the barrage of fan and media criticism that greeted their dismal road performance last week in Texas.
“You play the whole game,” Bay said. “You’ve seen the last few nights when we’ve gotten down. There were times earlier on in the season when we’ve gotten down and we rolled over. And lately, we haven’t been doing that. We got big hits and it helped.”
But the big hits by Bay and Morse only mattered because Hisashi Iwakuma showed once again the Mariners did not completely lose their No. 2 starter when they traded Vargas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales last December.
Feeling better than he has in recent outings, even with a blister on his finger still not completely healed, Iwakuma made it through six innings and allowed just an unearned run. That came on a fielding error by shortstop Robert Andino in the sixth and final frame by Iwakuma, who was pulled after 92 pitches as the Mariners avoided pushing his impacted finger any further.
Iwakuma struck out eight batters and didn’t walk any, leaving the game close enough for his teammates to figure Vargas out. And that they finally did, securing the second career victory for Carter Capps, who tossed two innings of one-hit relief after coming on in the seventh.
Tom Wilhelmsen closed out the ninth for the second consecutive day and the Mariners, now 11-16, suddenly found themselves a half-game ahead of the reeling Angels in the division standings.
For Bay, a solid approach at the plate isn’t all about working counts deep. It’s about knowing when to spot that one pitch you can hit.
“His changeup was really good today,” he said of Vargas, who struck him out his first two times up. “So, I was trying to get to a situation where I didn’t have to see the changeup. And that was, if I get a fastball early, I’m going to attack it.
“Which is the plan a lot of times. But I just got one I could handle and I didn’t miss it.”
Morse didn’t miss his rare shot at a Vargas fastball either after going 56 plate appearances between home runs.
“After that first time around the order, he started throwing his changeup and it was pretty unhittable,” Morse said. “It was a pitch that you really have to see up and he was getting us out on it a lot. So, it was tough. But you try to get on his fastball early in the count.”
Morse displayed some visible emotion as the ball left his bat and carried over the left-field wall.
“We wanted to win this series bad,” he said. “We’ve been fighting. It was a tough game. It was a pitcher’s game. We’re going to have a lot of these one-run games, and to come out on top like that – there’s a lot of character on this team.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge had been desperately seeking some character and fight from his club when it was going 1-5 in Arlington and Houston last week.
“To clinch the series, that’s the type of thing that can get you going,” Wedge said. “These guys, I like the way they’re carrying themselves right now. They’re starting to get back on track. Obviously, we still have a ways to go offensively. But you can see certain indicators with certain guys that they’re starting to head in the right direction.
“Eventually, that will collectively translate and then we’ll be on our way.”