BOSTON – A fifth-inning fly ball to left by Russell Branyan would have trouble cracking the top 50, with regard to power, of anything he’s put in the air this season.
But as Branyan fouled off pitch after two-strike pitch with two on and one out, it became clear the Mariners’ fortunes this Saturday afternoon depended on his staying alive for one more offering. Long before the Mariners finally pulled out a 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, it was Branyan’s tying sacrifice fly to left on the 11th pitch of the at-bat by Red Sox starter Brad Penny that ultimately swayed the day’s events.
Without that epic battle, Penny likely had a shot at going seven innings and the Mariners would never have seen Boston reliever Takashi Saito in a walk-strewn ninth that ultimately handed Seattle a second straight win here.
“(Penny) made some tough pitches on me and I was able to get a piece of them to be able to survive until the next pitch,” Branyan said. “I had a runner on third with less than two out and my focus was on getting that guy in.”
The Mariners have squandered such opportunities all season and Branyan quickly fell behind 0-2 to Penny. But he took the count full, fouled off four pitches, then finally delivered a huge run in a game in which scoring was at a premium.
That enabled the Mariners to stun a Fourth of July crowd of 37,656 at Fenway Park in an eventual bullpen battle that had them decisively outgunned. The Mariners entered the day with several relievers unavailable or drained, but got 61/3 strong innings out of Garrett Olson, then a badly-needed needed 12/3 hitless frames from struggling reliever Roy Corcoran to give themselves a shot in the ninth.
The Mariners, 5-3 on their current road trip, displayed uncanny focus at the plate all day, drawing five walks and forcing the Red Sox to make pitches. That approach, typified by the Branyan at-bat, delivered in the ninth as a wild-looking Saito walked Ken Griffey Jr., then Ryan Langerhans and Kenji Johjima to load the bases with one out.
“Griffey’s done that all year, where he sets the tone,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “For a guy of his stature to go up there and draw that walk, I think it gave us some momentum, gave us a little bit of life right there.”
Seattle then caught a break as Chris Woodward – a career .170 hitter with the bases loaded – blooped a pop-fly single into shallow right field.
Woodward had saved the day in the sixth when Olson snared a comebacker from Jacoby Ellsbury with runners at the corners and none out. Olson threw high to third in a bid to catch lead runner Rocco Baldelli in a rundown, but Woodward made a leaping grab, and eventually tagged the runner out.
The inning ended with a 5-4-3 double play.
David Aardsma closed out a perfect ninth after getting treatment earlier in the day for a muscle knot near the back of his rib cage.
Prior to that, the seldom-used Corcoran turned in his best outing of the season. He got two groundouts to escape the seventh after taking over from Olson with a runner on, then pitched a perfect eighth, retiring pinch hitter David Ortiz on a soft lineout.
“I hadn’t felt this good all year,” Corcoran said. “I’ll tell you, I had my back against the wall for a while, kind of beating myself up.”
But it all might not have mattered had Branyan failed to deliver.
The M’s could have been trailing 2-1, with Penny headed for seven frames had Branyan not caused him to throw half of his 22 pitches in that fifth. Had Penny gone seven innings instead of six and left with a lead, the Mariners would have faced Hideki Okajima in the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth.
But instead, after being dominated by Justin Masterson and Okajima in the seventh and eighth respectively, it was Saito they got in the ninth.
Branyan had been known as an “all-or-nothing” free swinger so typical of the Mariners’ style. But now, as he winds through his first season as a full-time player, he feels his game is changing.
“Those are the things I’m capable of doing,” he said. “I’m capable of putting a quality at-bat together every time I go up to a plate. It doesn’t always have to be a swing, or a guy gets me with two strikes and I’m an easy put away. I think I’m a guy who can fight off tough pitches.”
Just one more surprise for a Mariners team that keeps providing them daily.
Mariners 3, Red Sox 2
|Griffey Jr. dh||3||0||0||0||1||1||.211|
b-struck out for Lugo in the 9th.
1-ran for Griffey Jr. in the 9th.
E—Cedeno (3). LOB—Seattle 7, Boston 7. 2B—Branyan (15), Youkilis (20). HR—Varitek (12), off Olson. RBIs—Branyan 2 (45), Woodward (3), Varitek 2 (34). SB—Ellsbury (35), Lugo (3). SF—Branyan.
Runners left in scoring position—Seattle 3 (Johjima, I.Suzuki 2); Boston 5 (J.Drew 2, Bay, J.Bailey, Youkilis).
Runners moved up—I.Suzuki, Pedroia. GIDP—Cedeno, J.Bailey.
DP—Seattle 1 (Woodward, Jo.Lopez, Branyan); Boston 1 (Youkilis, Pedroia, J.Bailey).
|Corcoran W, 2-0||1 2/3||0||0||0||0||1||17||7.04|
|Aardsma S, 17-18||1||0||0||0||0||1||10||1.41|
|Saito L, 2-2||1||1||1||1||3||1||38||3.45|
Inherited runners-scored—Corcoran 1-0. HBP—by Olson (Baldelli).
T—3:06. A—37,656 (37,373).
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