BALTIMORE – Holding a one-run lead in the eighth inning Wednesday, rookie Mark Lowe threw a fastball the Camden Yards radar gun clocked at 102 miles per hour.
“You’re kidding,” Lowe said. “Maybe it was the temperature.”
He had a point.
On a 102-degree day, the Seattle Mariners sweated out a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles that allowed them to keep the heat on the rest of the American League West.
“That’s four series in a row we’ve won,” said closer J.J. Putz, who picked up his 23rd save. “Now we’ve got a big series at home with Oakland. We’re playing well – that would be big series to win.”
Adrian Beltre hit a two-run home run in the first inning, Felix Hernandez and his bullpen held the Orioles to half that, and Seattle won for the fourth time in six games on this trip.
Without further ado, three games as big as they get in August. Starting Friday night in Safeco Field, the Mariners have the chance to gain ground on the division-leading Oakland Athletics, a team that has single-handedly kept Seattle less than .500 this season.
Three-and-a-half games behind Oakland, the Mariners are 53-54 – but 1-9 against Oakland.
“If we’d split our series with them so far, we’d be in first place, they’d be in last,” Putz said, shrugging. “I think we’re ready for them.”
First, however, they had to keep their eyes squarely on Baltimore.
Against Orioles ace Erik Bedard, Jose Lopez singled with one out in the first inning to bring up Beltre. On a Bedard fastball, Beltre turned and slammed a long drive into the second deck – foul.
“You hit a ball that hard foul, you think … you’re not going to get that pitch again, and you yanked it foul,” said Beltre.
So what happened?
“Bedard gave me the same pitch – a fastball – just a little further over the plate than he wanted,” Beltre said.
Beltre hit it fair, over the fence in left-center field, for his 10th home run and a 2-0 lead.
Hernandez was ahead before he took the mound. It helped.
“It was hot, but I was able to put it out of my mind in the beginning,” Hernandez said. “The lead definitely helped. When you’re pitching with a lead, it’s a little easier for you to do your job and not think of anything else.”
There were moments when Hernandez – the Mariners’ first 10-game winner of 2006 – was at his best.
In the third inning, for instance, former MVP Miguel Tejada was at the plate with the bases loaded, and Hernandez got him to ground routinely to second baseman Lopez.
The pitch? A 99 mph fastball.
Corey Patterson tripled with two outs in the fourth inning, and pitching coach Rafael Chaves chatted with his starter on the mound, calming him down. Hernandez got veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez to ground to shortstop.
“I started feeling the heat as the game went on, and I had a little trouble gripping my curveball because my hands were so wet,” Hernandez said. “I went as far as I could go.”
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