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Taijuan Walker is nearly perfect as roll continues

Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, left, and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker congratulate each other after Walker threw a three-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels in a baseball game Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif. The Mariners won 8-0. (Mark J. Terrill / AP)
Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, left, and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker congratulate each other after Walker threw a three-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels in a baseball game Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif. The Mariners won 8-0. (Mark J. Terrill / AP)

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — What a 10-day turnaround for Taijuan Walker! And what isn’t working these days for the Mariners? They made it seven victories in a row Tuesday night with an 8-0 romp over the Los Angeles Angels.

Walker flirted with a perfect game into the sixth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh before settling for a three-hit shutout.

It was just 10 days ago that Walker failed to survive a disastrous six-run first inning against these same Angels in a 10-3 loss at Safeco Field. That prompted some serious soul-searching and an adjusted approach.

Along with constant attention from pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.

And now…wow.

‘‘Three weeks left in the season,’’ Walker said, ‘‘it’s weird to change mechanics. So it felt really good to have success today. I told Mel three days ago, when I was playing catch, ‘I think I’ve got it. It feels good.’

‘‘I’ve been watching a lot of video of Jake Arrieta and Roger Clemens. Those kinds of guys. Just see how they did it, and I came in the next day and felt really good.’’

Walker retired the first 17 batters before Cliff Pennington reached on a throwing error by shortstop Ketel Marte with two outs in the sixth inning.

‘‘I didn’t move my feet,’’ Marte said, shaking his head. ‘‘That’s what happened.’’ The no-hitter ended when Kole Calhoun opened the seventh inning by grounding a clean single through the right side of the infield. The Mariners led 8-0 at that point.

‘‘After I gave up the hit,’’ Walker said, ‘‘I still felt really good. I got a chance to go from the stretch, and I felt really good from the stretch, too.’’

Walker followed Calhoun’s single by striking out Mike Trout for the third time before Albert Pujols grounded a single through the left side. But Walker retired the next two hitters.

”I couldn’t be any prouder of him,’’ manager Scott Servais said, ‘‘and the job that Mel Stottlemyre Jr. has done with him over a short amount of time. It goes to show you what kind of athlete he is and what a special talent he is.

‘‘When you put it all together, and everybody gets on the same page, great things can happen.’’ Walker (6-10) struck out 11 and didn’t walk a batter in a 113-pitch gem for the first complete-game shutout in his career.

‘‘Unbelievable,’’ catcher Mike Zunino said. ‘‘Best I’ve ever seen him.’’

The victory enabled the Mariners to remain 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth with 17 games remaining.

Walker had a 2-0 lead before he delivered his first pitch, courtesy of Nelson Cruz’s two-run homer in the first inning. Nine of Cruz’s 36 homers this year are against the Angels.

This was a towering drive to left that refused to hook foul.

‘‘I was willing it fair,’’ he said. ‘‘I guess I kept my hands inside (the ball) pretty good.’’

The Mariners stretched their lead to 4-0 in the second, which included a Nori Aoki homer. That all came against Los Angeles starter Alex Meyer, a 6-foot-9 rookie who lasted four innings. Meyer fell to 0-3.

The Mariners doubled their lead on Seth Smith’s grand slam in the sixth inning against Mike Morin. At that point, the attention shifted solely to Walker.

Tellingly, the Mariners went to their defensive alignment prior to the LA sixth inning with Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel replacing Aoki and Smith in the two corner outfield positions. Walker got two quick outs in the sixth before Marte bounced a throw that rookie first baseman Dan Vogelbach couldn’t scoop. Walker ended the sixth by retiring Yunel Escobar on a grounder to third. The no-hitter ended the next inning.

‘‘I think they were going to take me out in the eighth,’’ Walker said, ‘‘but I told them, ‘I’m good. Just give me a short leash.’ I got them one-two-three. Then in the ninth, same thing.

‘‘When they got a runner on (a one-out single), I was looking over my shoulder and hoping they’d leave me in. Then first pitch, a ground ball (double play).’’

PLAY OF THE GAME

Angels center fielder Mike Trout took extra bases away from Mike Zunino with a leaping catch after a sprint for the final out in the third inning.

PLUS

Besides Walker? Dan Vogelbach got his first big-league hit with a single to right in the sixth inning…Nori Aoki reached in three of four plate appearances and scored three runs…Nelson Cruz had three hits and a walk in four plate appearances. He was a triple shy of a cycle.

MINUS

Shortstop Ketel Marte made a sloppy throw to first base for the two-out error in the sixth inning that ended Taijuan Walker’s perfect game, although first baseman Dan Vogelbach failed to make a catchable scoop…Robinson Cano went hitless in five at-bats.

STAT PACK

Nelson Cruz’s two-run blast in the first inning was the Mariners’ 200th homer of the year. They reached that milestone in four previous seasons: 1997 (264), 1996 (245), 1999 (244) and 1998 (234). Nori Aoki and Seth Smith subsequently pushed this year’s count to 202.

QUOTABLE

Seth Smith was a rookie in 2007 at Colorado when the Rockies closed the season by winning 14 of their last 15 games. They overcame a 6 1/2-game deficit and made it to the World Series. Asked whether the Mariners’ current run reminded him of that, Smith paused before responding: ‘‘No. I haven’t thought about that.’’

SHORT HOPS

Seth Smith has two career grand slams in his 10-year career and both came this season. His other one was July 3 in a 9-4 victory over Baltimore at Safeco Field…the Mariners hold a 10-8 edge in the season series against the Angels with only Wednesday’s series finale remaining…the Mariners’ last seven-game winning streak was an eight-game run from July 12-23, 2013…the Mariners are back to .500 on the road at 37-37…the Mariners have won seven straight against AL West opponents but are still 32-33 in division play.


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