SEATTLE – A year ago today, Gil Meche was packing for a trip to Tacoma.
The Seattle Mariners had seen enough of his inconsistent performances, and a start that lasted just two innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 1 was the final act before they demoted him to the minor leagues.
One year later, Meche is celebrating his best game of the season and a place solidly in the Mariners’ rotation.
He pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and held the Blue Jays to five hits in the Mariners’ 3-0 victory at Safeco Field. It was his best outing since he shut out the Red Sox in a complete game last September.
“They’re a pretty good hitting team and I made some great pitches down in the zone,” Meche said. “There’s nothing more that I could ask for today.”
Meche, 5-3, finally dropped his earned run average to less than five. It’s at 4.57 after his fourth quality outing in his past five starts. In that span, he’s 3-1 with a no-decision and an ERA of 3.64.
The Mariners also are on a good run as a team.
They have won four of their last five games and have beaten left-handed starters two straight, Gustavo Chacin the victim this time. The Mariners are 4-10 this season against lefties.
Working with veteran catcher Pat Borders, who caught his second shutout, Meche shut down the Blue Jays with a good fastball-curve combination, then added a changeup.
“His two best pitches are his curveball and his fastball, but in the middle innings he started using his changeup and it gave him a completely different look,” Borders said.
Manager Mike Hargrove gave Borders a big chunk of the credit.
“Pat Borders did a tremendous job keeping Gil under control,” Hargrove said.
Meche needed every quality pitch he could throw, locked in a duel with Blue Jays left-hander Gustavo Chacin, who limited the Mariners to one run through seven innings – Bret Boone’s RBI single to score Raul Ibanez in the fourth.
Meche pitched with baserunners in five different innings, but was in danger only twice.
In the first, Bret Boone’s wild throw on a double-play attempt allowed Frank Catalanotto to reach second with one out. Meche then got Aaron Hill and Shea Hillenbrand on grounders to escape.
In the third, Alex Rios led off with a double, but was stranded at third when Meche retired Orlando Hudson on a ground ball and Hill on a fly.
Despite Meche’s excellence, he needed considerable help from the bullpen to finish it.
Ron Villone struck out both hitters he faced, Russ Adams for the third out of the seventh with Rios on first base and Hudson to start the eighth.
Hargrove brought in right-hander Jeff Nelson, who gave up a one-out double to pinch-hitter Reed Johnson, got Hill to pop up before walking Hillenbrand.
Hargrove then turned to left-hander Matt Thornton, who he’d been reluctant to use in tough situations until recently, to face Eric Hinske. For the second straight appearance, Thornton did his job by getting Hinske to pop up.
“Matt’s got a big-time arm and we’ve been able to use him in tough situations two of the last three games,” Hargrove said. “He’s really come through for us in tight situations.”
Before closer Eddie Guardado took over in the ninth, the Mariners gave him a cushion.
Borders led off the eighth with a single – his second hit of the game – and Adrian Beltre drove him in with a single. Later, Ibanez drove in Beltre with a single for the Mariners’ third run.
“The difference going into the ninth inning between having a one-run lead and a two-run lead is enormous,” Hargrove said.
Guardado made it a non-issue. He got two popups and a grounder to record his 15th save.
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