DETROIT – One day after watching in horror while Franklin Gutierrez crumpled to the ground, the Seattle Mariners had another big scare Wednesday night.
This one involved their rapidly emerging ace, Felix Hernandez, who twisted his left ankle in the third inning when he slipped on the wet grass at Comerica Park chasing down a pop fly that landed behind him.
But the Mariners didn’t need an X-ray to know that Hernandez was OK. The way he leapt in the dugout after Russ Branyan’s two-out, two-run homer in the eighth inning was better than any doctor’s examination.
Branyan’s blast, his 24th of the season to tie his 2002 career high, lifted the Mariners to a 2-1 victory over the Tigers. It was the second, and final, hit of the game for the Mariners, who hadn’t won a game with two or fewer hits since 2002.
“I think the big thing was when Russell hit the home run, I looked around in the dugout and Felix was jumping,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “So I think his ankle is fine.”
Trainer Rick Griffin made the same observation in the dugout.
“I said, ‘Hell, yeah, now it feels good,’ ” Hernandez said.
As he talked to reporters, Hernandez sat in the same locker he occupied on Aug. 4, 2005, when he made his major-league debut at age 19 and suffered the loss in Detroit’s 3-1 victory.
He’s beginning to live up to the King Felix hype that accompanied his arrival. Hernandez, now a ripe old 23, earned his seventh straight victory and the 50th of his career, while running his record to 10-2 with a 1.94 ERA after a Mariners loss.
“I started my career here in Detroit in this locker, and I’m just proud,” he said. “I just have to stay healthy.”
For a long while, it looked like Hernandez would pay for the lone run he gave up in the third inning, as he was being outpitched by his Venezuelan countryman Armando Galarraga.
But with the Tigers still clinging to that 1-0 lead in the eighth, Jack Hannahan drew a leadoff walk off Galarraga. He took second on Ronny Cedeno’s ground out. But after left-hander Bobby Seay replaced Galarraga, Hannahan was nailed at third on Ichiro Suzuki’s grounder to short.
That looked like it might have ended the Mariners’ last scoring opportunity – until Branyan stepped to the plate and torched a 1-0 Seay slider into the right-field seats.
“I feel like I’ve been going up there the last two weeks trying to pull the ball,” Branyan said. “That at-bat, I got real focused on trying to see the ball deep, and hitting it the other way. But it just happened to be a slider up in the zone, and I was able to pull it.”
Branyan realizes that in past years, he might not have been given a chance to face the left-handed Seay. But Wakamatsu has allowed the left-handed-hitting Branyan to face all comers.
“For myself, being able to face lefties, I feel like I have just as quality of at-bats against a lefty as I do a righty,” he said. “To be able to prove that, it means a lot to me.”
Mark Lowe worked a perfect eighth for Seattle, and David Aardsma nailed down his 23rd save.
The Tigers’ lone run came in the third. With one out, Placido Polanco poked a soft single into right, just out of the reach of second baseman Jose Lopez. Hernandez struck out Miguel Cabrera for the second out, but Polanco got a huge jump and stole second with Clete Thomas at the plate.
On the next pitch, Thomas grounded the ball up the middle, barely eluding Hernandez’s glove and into center field as Polanco scored easily.
“It was a battle,” Hernandez said.
The Mariners got a huge scare in the third when Marcus Thames, while shattering his bat, hit a pop fly that landed behind the pitcher’s mound for an infield single. Rushing after the ball, Hernandez slipped on the wet grass (the start of the game was delayed 38 minutes by rain) and twisted his ankle.
Wakamatsu and trainer Rob Nodine went out to check on Hernandez, who threw a couple of practice pitches and remained in the game.
Hernandez has battled ankle problems before.
Mariners 2, Tigers 1
|Griffey Jr. dh||4||0||0||0||0||0||.211|
E—I.Suzuki (4). LOB—Seattle 5, Detroit 6. 2B—Mi.Cabrera (19). HR—Branyan (24), off Seay. RBIs—Branyan 2 (54), Thomas (25). SB—Polanco (4). CS—Raburn (2). RLSP—Seattle 1 (Cedeno); Detroit 4 (J.Anderson 3, Thomas). RMU—Cedeno.
|Seay L,1-2 BS,4-4||1||1||1||1||0||0||3.16|
Inherited runners-scored—Seay 1-1. WP—F.Hernandez. T—2:26. A—29,758 (41,255).
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