This week in Mariners baseball was a big one. The face of the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki, was traded to the New York Yankees on Monday, July 23rd. Then on Sunday, July 29th, the Mariners completed their first 4-game home sweep in 11 years. The Mariners finished up the week 5-2, and are 11-6 since the all-star break, within only 10 games of .500. Starting third baseman Kyle Seager also leads the American League in 2-out RBIs with 36.
Of the 29,911 fans that showed up to Game 1 against the New York Yankees, some of them didn’t even know what had happened with Ichiro and were surprised to see their starting left fielder in a different uniform. In his first at-bat with a new team, the 10-time all-star tipped his helmet and bowed with tears in his eyes to a roaring crowd, then went on to single and steal second for the pinstripes. Ichiro would get a hit in each of the 3 games, then would head back to New York to take part in a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.
The Mariners lost Game 1, 4-1, to American League’s best team (59-39). Their lone run came in the third inning when John Jaso hit Dustin Ackley in with 2 outs. In the game there were only 3 hits (a double by Wells, and 2 hits from Jaso), yet 12 strikeouts. Of Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a Japanese fellow, shortstop Brendan Ryan said, “He had a feel for his slider. He’d show you a couple different fastballs, so his slider’s late, it’s deceptive. Throw it at the right time, you get guys being a little too aggressive. [He] just mixed his pitches pretty well.”
Game 2 was certainly a different story, as Mariners ace Felix Hernandez was pitching. In 7 1/3 innings, Hernandez allowed only 2 runs on 4 hits and took the win. “That’s what he does,” said manager Eric Wedge. “He bears down, he steps up in those types of opportunities, he executes pitches, he’s just a great competitor with obviously great stuff.” For run support Saunders and Seager each had 2 hits (one of Seager’s was a 2-out RBI). Montero and Ryan each had a hit, and for the second night in a row, Ackley reached on a walk, stole second and came around to score a run for the M’s. Ryan scored another, and Saunders had 2, including a solo home run in the first inning, that answered a threatening Derek Jeter bomb.
In Game 3, Jesus Montero threw Ichiro out trying to steal second, and he was tagged out by fellow countryman Munenori Kawasaki playing shortstop. “We’re moving forward,” said the Skipper. The Yanks would score first, but the Mariners would again immediately answer back—2 runs were scored by Montero and Saunders. The M’s would hold the Yanks for most of the game; however, a 4-run inning in the 8th was too much to handle, and Seattle was shut-out 5 consecutive outs in rout to a 5-2 Yankees victory; the Mariners were outhit 10-3. Disappointed with the late-game loss, but still positive Wedge had this to say: “I think it’s another step now that these guys are leaving town. The focus for all these young kids is playing baseball and getting better and understanding what it takes to win a game like that today.”
The Mariners would move on, and in respectable fashion. The next night would be Game 1 against the Kansas City Royals in which the Mariners had 11 hits, for Jason Vargas’s 11th win. Opposing team’s manager Ned Yost said of Vargas, “He pitched a great game, moved the ball in and out, changed speeds well.” The southpaw is 4-0 in his 5 July starts, with an ERA of 1.46. He went 8 innings of 1-hit ball, walked 3 and struck out 5. The surging pitcher’s words of wisdom: “It’s been good. It’s been a good stretch. I just try to take it one start at a time and just try to focus on what I want to do to get better for that next team we’re facing. I don’t really put a whole lot of thought into what’s happened prior, unless it’s something that really needs to change.”
Of his starting pitcher, Eric Wedge said, “You go through real good stretches and sometimes not so good. One thing about Jason, his demeanor doesn’t change, his confidence level doesn’t change. I think he has a tremendous feel for what he needs to do to be successful.”
On the offensive side of things, the Mariners started off hot, and for the 6th time in the last 7 games, they scored in the 1st inning. Mike Carp, fresh off the DL, played 1st base and went 3-4, scoring a run. In the 1st Jaso and Ackley would score on a 2-out single from Carp. Ackley and Olivo would both tack on 2 hits, Olivo with a double and a run scored. The final score was 4-1.
In Game 2, the Mariners would again limit the Royals to only 1 run, in a 6-1 victory. This time, righty Blake Beavan would get the job done and pick up his 3rd straight win, fanning 6, and lowering his ERA to 3.05. He is now 6-6 on the year. Unlike his last performance when he was thanking his working curve ball, in Game 2, Beavan steered clear of it after the 2nd when he recorded 2 wild pitches. “My curveball was terrible today and I kind of banged that after the 2nd inning and just worked slider-fastball,” he said. “I just didn’t have a good feel for it today. That’s why you hope you have a couple other pitches. Fortunately, I had my slider working today.”
For Beavan, the Mariners were able to again keep their streak alive, scoring for the 4th game in a row in the 1st inning. John Jaso, with the team’s best batting average of .288, homered to drive in 3 runs in the 1st. “With a runner on third base and less than two outs, I was looking for a ball up and something I could lift into the outfield,” Jaso said. “And that’s just what I got. Luckily, I put enough barrel on it to get it out.” Aside from his 5th home run of the season, Jaso would pick up another RBI in the second with a sac fly. Mike Carp would also homer for the M’s and pick up the additional 2 RBIs of the game, with 2 hits. Montero and Ryan each added on 2 more hits; Saunders and Seager each had 1.
“I’m not sure you can get any better than that guy,” said Kevin Millwood of his starting shortstop Brendan Ryan after picking up his 4th win of the season. Millwood in Game 3 against the Royals went 6 1/3 innings, and gave up just one unearned run on 6 hits. He credited an excellent defense that played behind him. In the game, former bartender Tom Wilhelmson picked up his 13th save of the season. Hitting highlights of the 4-3 win included Montero’s 10th home run of the season. Both Casper Wells and Montero notched 2 hits a piece; Seager, Olivo and new left fielder Trayvon Robinson each notched 1.
Game 4 was pitched by Felix Hernandez, and although he didn’t pick up the win due to late runs scored by the Royals in the 8th, he still only gave up 5 hits and 2 runs in the Mariners 7-6 victory. Hernandez has not lost since June 12th, allowing just 12 earned runs over 67 1/3 innings. His ERA has dropped from 3.70 to 2.79.
Even after being hit in the wrist by a line drive during the game, Felix remained on the mound, between the white lines; he fanned 6 batters. “They were not going to take me out today,” he said.
The Mariners remained ahead the entire game, and managed to score enough insurance runs in the 8th to hold on for the victory. Kyle Seager tacked on 2 more, 2-out RBIs; Carp and Seager each had 3 hits in the game; Michael Saunders had 2 hits. Other offensive contributors include: Robinson, Ryan, Wells, and Ackley, with Saunders, Carp and Robinson each hitting doubles.
Key to the sweep? “We’re hitting when we’ve got men in scoring position. That’s how you win games,” says King Felix. In the 8 games they’ve faced the Royals this month, the Mariners have scored 52 runs, in their other 16—45. They next face off at home against the Toronto Blue Jays. Let’s hope they can keep these bats alive.