This week in Mariner-land was a time of births, plane rides, and great baseball. A bunch of good stuff happened. The Mariners first faced the Blue Jays at home, and then flew to New York to face the Yankees for the second time in as many weeks. They faced their now friendly foe, Ichiro, who has gotten a hit for his Yankees in every game that he’s started for them; this week he extended his streak to 12 games. The Mariners went 4-2 on the week.
For the first game against Toronto, fresh off a 14-hour plane ride from Japan (he was visiting his ill father), Mariner Hisashi Iwakuma, 31, set a new rookie pitching record by fanning 13 batters over 8 innings; it was a 4-1 win for the Mariners. The record had previously been held by the likes of Randy Johnson and Freddy Garcia (who each had 12 strikeouts), and is the most Hisashi has ever had in a game–including the 11 years he pitched in Japan. In the game he gave up only 4 hits. After playing the role of long reliever for 3 months, Iwakuma is now 1-1 as a starter with a 3.41 ERA over 5 starts.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Iwakuma: “He was fantastic tonight and we really needed him to step up. We were obviously really short in the bullpen and for him to go eight strong innings like he did and pitch the way he did against a very good-hitting ballclub, it was just a great performance.” By “short in the bullpen,” Wedge meant that 3 of his regular relievers were missing. Closer Tom Wilhelmson was off as he was with his wife helping deliver their first child, and both Brandon League and Steve Delabar were traded to different teams, as the trade deadline approached—League went to the Dodgers, and Delabar walked across the field to the Blue Jays.
However, since all of them were gone, it was Lucas Luetge who picked up his first save. With 2 outs, the game closed with a stellar play by shortstop Brendan Ryan. “It felt good getting the save. But it felt even better looking back and seeing Ryan making that play. Off the bat, I thought, ‘Man, that’s a hit. I’ve got to work on this next guy here.’ So I was pretty pumped about it,” said Luetge. “I threw the ball about 6 inches outside and thought he was just going to take it. But he put his bat out there and it found the hole. Luckily we’ve got a superstar shortstop over there.”
Offensive highlights included Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager both going 2 for 4 with an RBI a piece. Saunders also scored a run. Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan and Saunders all had doubles.
As far as trading goes, rumors were swirling overhead that the reliable and consistent Jason Vargas might be the next to leave. This wasn’t the case, as the lefty went on to pitch his first career win against Toronto past the Tuesday deadline, and gathered his career-best 12th win of the season. “I think it would weigh on anybody, but I tried to do my best to just focus on what I had to do tonight,” Jason said. “I was excited when 1 o’clock hit and as time got narrower and narrower, my chances of getting traded got smaller and smaller.”
The Mariners won the game by a landslide score of 7-2, and Jason stayed in Seattle and was awarded the American League’s Pitcher of the Month award for July. Jason’s 5 July wins tied the franchise record, held by King Felix from September 2009. It was a happy ending for the Northwest.
In the game the Mariners would score fast gathering 4 runs over the first 2 innings. In fact, Dustin Ackley would homer on the first pitch of the ball game. He went on to have a 3 RBI night. This was in part due to the offensive production from the bottom of the order, as shortshop Ryan (batting 9th) went 3 for 4 with an RBI, recently promoted left fielder Trayvon Robinson (batting 8th) went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI, and Miguel Olivo (batting 7th) went 2 for 4 with a double and 2 RBIs. The good night finally put Brendan Ryan’s average above the Mendoza line at .205; his teammates rained down beer and ketchup on him after the game in celebration of this feat.
“One thing that’s important to me,” said the Skipper, “is you’re not just doing it one way or another. You have to have multiple ways to win ballgames up here if you’re going to be a consistent winner and you’re seeing us do that.”
The players seemed to agree, as veteran reliever Josh Kinney, who struck out the side in the 9th, summed up his feelings by saying plainly, “This is fun. We’re playing good ball. Guys are feeling good. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. You come to the park and look around and guys are expecting to come here and do well. This is awesome. This is how you roll.”
The next game was a bit closer, but nonetheless won by the Mariners, 5-3. Blake Beavan pitched 7 2/3rds innings on 82 pitches, and picked up his 4th win since being recalled from Triple-A. The win would cap the longest winning streak (7) the Ms have had in 5 years.
In the trade with Toronto, the Mariners picked up outfielder Eric Thames. In his first start with the Mariners, Eric hit a homer to come from behind and tie the game up at 3 in the 5th against his old team. The next two runs came when Saunders, after hitting a double was hit in by a 2-out single by John Jaso in the 6th. Then in the 7th Ackley would hit in Ryan, who had reached on base by a double as well.
Of his new team, Thames says, “One thing I love about this team is everybody’s young and everything matters. If a guy makes a double-play pitch or good catch, everybody’s on the dugout just giving high-fives. It’s great to be a part of, it’s awesome.”
The 70 degree game at Safeco would be the last played at home for a while as the Mariners were off on a 9-game road trip, first facing the Yankees. The first game against New York’s ball club was lost 6-3 going against All-star CC Sabathia, and the Mariners were outhit 12-3. Sabathia has won his last 8 starts against the Mariners, and it was his 11th win of the season. He struck out 10, and walked only 1. Eric Wedge, who has managed Sabathia in the past, said that the pitcher was on top of his game, and that the Mariners shouldn’t take the loss much to heart. “You’ve got to recognize our guys have been playing good baseball,” Wedge said. “And they played good baseball tonight. That guy was just real good. There’s going to be games like that. That’s all it is.”
In fact, Sabathia had a perfect game going until the top of the 4th when Casper Wells stepped in and blasted a homer; it was his 7th home run of the season. The only other output from the Mariners would be a double in the 8th from Olivo, and another homer from Ackley in the 9th, with Brendan Ryan (who had reached base on a walk) scoring as well. Wedge was still very optimistic about the turnout. “We didn’t give at-bats away today,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with that. The guy was just real good. They were competing. They were in it, and we’ll come out here fresh [Saturday] and ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Wedge was right as the Mariners sure did put on a show in Saturday’s game. There was magic in the air for Game 2 against the Yankees. In front of a crowd of 47,067, King Felix shut out New York for the 7th time in his career. Derek Jeter, shortstop and captain of American League’s best home run hitting team commented, “We’d love to score some runs, but unfortunately, Felix was outstanding.”
Our shortstop Brendan Ryan, who’s played behind Felix for 2 years, said, “I think he could have gone 15 innings. Getting that first-strike curve over a couple times and having every bit of sharpness as it did in the first, wow. But that changeup, it defies science.” Numbers show that Hernandez is as good as anyone in the Majors right now, and the win is his 6th in a row, which is the 3rd longest streak in his career. In the game he had 6 strikeouts and only 2 walks.
On why he seems to play so well in New York, Felix responded, “I don’t know, man,” he said. “I’m just trying to throw a good game here. You know New York is a baseball city. The fans here love baseball, so I’m just trying to have a good game.”
The magic stayed in the bats as well, as new father Mike Carp, hit in the winning run on the night his new baby girl was born. Carp’s girlfriend lives in California and the couple were hoping that the birth wouldn’t happen until he reached Anaheim, but the little girl couldn’t wait. The girl was delivered minutes before the Mariners began their game at New York. “It was a good day,” Carp said. “Definitely a memorable one I’ll never forget. I found out right before we took the field.” Carp was 2 for 4 in the game with a double and an RBI; he was able to fly home right after the game.
As for the run, it came in the top of the 2nd. Catcher John Jaso led off with a double, and advanced to 3rd on a grounder from Kyle Seager. Then with 2 outs, and a full count, Carp lined the ball to right field. The Mariners outhit the Yanks 8-2.
The last game of the series was also taken by New York—score 6-2. Despite scoring first in the 1st inning, the Mariners would be outhit 11-5 in the game, and Hisashi Iwakuma would take the loss. Jesus Montero would have both RBIs, coming on 2 separate singles in the 1st and 5th. Ackley and Saunders scored.
The Mariners then hopped on a train to head down to Baltimore to face the Orioles. They head into August with a 51-59 record, and with a heartbeat of optimism. Let’s hope their long 9-game road trip ends with another win streak.