SEATTLE – It was almost eerie how the beginning of Mike Leake’s second start for the Seattle Mariners mirrored his first.
A shaky first inning was followed by six innings of strong pitching and ultimately a needed victory to help Seattle stay on the fringe of the AL wild-card race.
Ben Gamel hit a three-run homer to give Seattle an early lead, Leake overcame his first-inning problems again, and the Mariners snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
Leake (2-0) followed almost the exact same script from his first start with Seattle, giving up three straight hits to start the game and allowing two first-inning runs. And just like his first start, Leake quickly settled down, retiring 13 straight batters at one point before C.J. Cron’s two-out single in the fifth inning.
Leake allowed two earned runs and struck out five.
“Unfortunately, it took a few hitters to get going but once I’m able to get into a rhythm, it’s nice to work with (catcher) Mike (Zunino) and he’s very creative and is fun to work with,” Leake said.
Seattle stayed four games behind Minnesota for the second wild card while the Angels dropped two games back.
“I thought our guys were into it, loose and having a good time. We’ve got nothing to lose, just go play,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
Leake has provided Seattle’s injury-riddled rotation exactly what it needed in his two starts, making early corrections and getting deep enough to salvage some innings from already overworked bullpen arms.
It was a shaky beginning, though. Brandon Phillips singled to open the game, Mike Trout doubled, and both scored on Justin Upton’s two-run single. But Leake immediately stopped the big inning by getting a double play out of Albert Pujols.
“We just couldn’t pick up one pitch. He was throwing everything, keeping us off balance,” Trout said.
Leake was nearly flawless until the sixth, when Upton’s two-out single and a passed ball led to an unearned run on Pujols’ RBI single. Leake was helped earlier in the inning when Gamel made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Phillips of at least a double and possibly a home run.
“I just knew I had to go up and get it … I knew I had time. I had (Guillermo Heredia) yelling, I had the bullpen yelling. I knew exactly where I was,” Gamel said.
Gamel provided the big blow with his eighth home run of the season with two outs in the second on a 1-2 pitch from starter Ricky Nolasco. Mitch Haniger added an RBI single an inning later and Nolasco (6-13) was unable to make it out of the fourth.
“I kind of did everything I want and he just barreled it,” Nolasco said. “He made the adjustment. Nothing you can do, tip your cap, he won that one.”
Pujols barely missed a tying home run leading off the ninth against closer Edwin Diaz as his liner hit the wall in left-center on the fly. Diaz said he thought the ball was out off the bat. But the Mariners young closer recovered to retire the next three for his 32nd save, including a strikeout of Luis Valbuena to end it with pinch-runner Eric Young Jr. at second base.
Sim game success
Both Felix Hernandez and James Paxton threw successful simulated games Friday. Hernandez threw 35 pitches and Paxton threw 40 and both proclaimed themselves ready to rejoin Seattle’s rotation that’s been decimated by injuries this season. Servais said both will likely throw another bullpen session and could be slotted back into the lineup on Seattle’s upcoming trip. Servais said the optimal scenario would have one throw at Texas at the end of a four-game series against the Rangers and the other likely throw next weekend at Houston. Both would be limited to about 50-60 pitches.
Angels: Andrew Heaney (1-1) will make his fifth start of the season. He gave up five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings in his last start – a loss – against Texas.
Mariners: Andrew Albers (3-1) looks to continue his unexpected run of success. Albers allowed one run and one hit in his last start against Oakland.