SEATTLE – For lack of any other purpose to their season, the Seattle Mariners are poised to make a difference in someone’s division race.
Thursday, it was the New York Yankees, who the Mariners beat 5-1 to split a four-game series that stuttered New York’s attempt to gain ground in the American League East and the A.L. wild-card race.
It’s September, when victories and losses carry more importance to teams contending for playoff berths.
That wouldn’t be the Mariners, who would need an incredible surge in the final 29 games to avoid finishing last in the A.L. West. Still, manager Mike Hargrove said his young team may have learned a few things the past seven games against the Yankees and White Sox.
Today, the Mariners begin a six-game road trip against the class of the A.L. West, Anaheim and Oakland.
“We faced two of the better teams in our league in this homestand, and we played them to a standstill,” Hargrove said. “That bodes well for this ballclub. This homestand, if it hasn’t proven it to our players, it should show them they can play with people. We’re not there yet, but we’re making strides.”
One day after 19-year-old Felix Hernandez held the Yankees to two home runs in a 2-0 loss, Joel Pineiro was nearly as impressive. He held the Yankees to five hits and a run in 6 2/3 innings, struck out a season-high seven, and continued his rebound from a horrid start to the season.
Pineiro, 1-6 during a stretch of 11 starts between May 1 and July 31, is 3-2 since Aug. 5.
Pineiro has shown not only consistency in his performances, but velocity on his fastball. Thursday, his fastball topped at 94 mph and consistently hit 92.
“That’s something we haven’t seen, and I saw it twice today,” Hargrove said.
Pineiro, who missed much of last season with a tender elbow and was troubled throughout spring training with a sore shoulder, couldn’t explain the sudden rise in his velocity.
“I don’t know what it is. I’ve been feeling fine,” he said.
The only productive swing the Yankees got off him came in the first inning, when Alex Rodriguez slapped a waist-high fastball to center field and drove in the only run off Pineiro.
Dave Hansen drove in Raul Ibanez with a single in the sixth that tied the score at 1, Miguel Ojeda hit his first home run of the season in the seventh to put the Mariners ahead 2-1, and they scored three times in the eighth on Adrian Beltre’s RBI single and Jose Lopez’s two-run homer.
The Mariners had done little against Yankees starter Jaret Wright, but they lit up Yankee relievers Tanyon Sturtze, Alan Embree and Ramiro Mendoza, and clamped down with their own bullpen.
George Sherrill (3-2) struck out Hideki Matsui with a runner on first and two outs in the seventh, J.J. Putz pitched a perfect eighth and Eddie Guardado pitched around a leadoff single to Bernie Williams to hold off the Yankees in the ninth.
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