OK, it might be a little premature to label this team a juggernaut. But over the past week and half, the Mariners have looked like something beyond competent: They have become competitive.
Seattle strutted into a packed Fenway Park on Friday night and picked up its fourth consecutive win, beating the Red Sox, 5-4, and leaving 37,485 fans wondering how a team that was predicted to be one of the worst in baseball beat a team that was picked by almost everyone to be one of the best.
“We’re just coming to the ballpark and having fun,” Mariners center fielder Michael Saunders said. “We are going to lose ballgames at some point, it’s a long season. But as a team, we’ve picked it up a notch. We don’t expect to lose. We come to the ballpark ready to win.”
And they’ve won a season high four in a row and eight of their past 12 games.
More impressive, they’ve done it in a variety of ways. Against the Red Sox, though, it was far from pretty. Starter Jason Vargas had to gut out a few mediocre early innings, then came on strong. And the offense needed to rally from a 4-2 deficit against the Boston bullpen.
Most surprising of all, the go-ahead hit came from the unlikeliest of sources – Jack Cust, who is trying to fight his way out of a slump one extra-base hit at a time.
Down 4-3 in the seventh inning, the Mariners took advantage Boston setup man Bobby Jenks’ struggles. The former White Sox closer came into the game with a 7.36 earned-run average in nine appearances. His ERA would go up after his latest outing.
Jenks gave up a leadoff single to left to Ichiro Suzuki and a double to left to Chone Figgins, putting runners on second and third. Jenks struck out Milton Bradley, but Miguel Olivo’s grounder to second scored Ichiro to tie it at 4.
Jenks then walked Justin Smoak with first base open to face Cust and his sub-.200 batting average.
But Jenks left a 1-0 fastball over the middle of the plate and Cust drove the ball deep to left-center, hitting it high off the Green Monster. It scored Figgins and gave the Mariners a 5-4 lead.
Given a lead for the second time in the game, Vargas made sure he stayed in line for the win. In the bottom of the seventh, he retired Darnell McDonald, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia in order.
He left after pitching seven innings, giving up four runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out four.
Jamey Wright came on to pitch a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth for his 11th sc–oreless outing in 12 appearances. And closer Brandon League followed with a scoreless ninth for his sixth save.
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