SEATTLE – If general manager Jack Zduriencik was ever tempted to gloat about a trade after a good game, it might have been Saturday.
The Seattle Mariners – led by right-hander Hector Noesi and catcher Jesus Montero – beat the Oakland Athletics, 4-0, for their first victory at home in 2012.
And the man responsible for the trade that brought Montero and Noesi to Seattle for Michael Pineda?
Zduriencik was stopped en route to the Mariners clubhouse after the game by a security guard who wanted to see his credential. Zduriencik obliged.
Fame can be like that.
There will be nights this season when Noesi isn’t pitching well – like his previous start in Texas – and Montero can’t make contact. There are nights like that for everybody.
This wasn’t one of them.
Noesi, 25, threw eight shutout innings at the Athletics, holding them to five hits, walking one and striking out six. It was the longest start of his short big-league career, and his best.
“I knew what had happened in Texas, and I used my bullpen (session) between starts to work on it,” Noesi said. “Tonight, I wanted to work with my fastball inside and outside, and if I missed, I wanted to miss down.”
Noesi didn’t miss often, and by the second inning could be seen occasionally smiling on the mound.
“You’ve got to be positive out there, that’s the first thing,” Noesi said. “When I walked to the mound in the second inning, I was smiling. Life is life – you have to enjoy it.”
Like his pitcher, catcher Noesi came up through the New York Yankees system and was ranked as one of the game’s premier young power-hitting prospects.
In Seattle, he had a seven-game hitting streak when play began Saturday – eight hits, all singles.
“Every time I go to the plate, I’m trying to hit the ball hard,” Montero said. “Sometimes I hit a home run, sometimes I strike out.”
Against left-hander Tommy Milone in the second inning, Montero homered – hitting a shot over the wall in center field to the cheers of 21,071 fans at Safeco Field.
“That was cool,” Montero said. “This is a hard field to hit a home run in, and I hit it to center field.”
A big smile.
“I was impressed,” he said.
He wasn’t alone. Manager Eric Wedge thought the 22-year-old caught well, called a great game and hit well, even after the home run.
“With two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth, he really stuck his nose in and drove the ball the other way,” Wedge said.
Montero doubled just inside the right-field foul line, scoring two runs and making it a 4-0 game.
“I caught Hector for five years in the minors,” Montero said, “and we were on the same page all night. We had fun tonight. He was throwing his fastball on the inside corner, the outside corner, then throwing the change-up. He was great.”
Last time out, he’d gone three innings against the Rangers, allowing seven runs. What happened?
“We talked after that start, about how he could put the ball where he wanted to in the bullpen,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “I wanted him to focus on his delivery, on his catcher, on throwing the ball through the hitter and not focusing on the hitter.
“He and Jesus have history, so that may have helped, especially early in the season. When we talked between innings, I didn’t say much – I didn’t want him to change a thing.”
Blanked a night earlier by Oakland, the Mariners returned the favor with their first shutout victory of 2012.
That it was thrown by the man traded for Pineda – who began the season on the disabled list after a tough spring – was not lost on fans in New York or Seattle.
Social media were ablaze with chat about the deal.
Montero now has an eight-game hitting streak during which he has batted .375. His home run snapped a 30-inning scoreless streak for Seattle at Safeco Field, dating to 2011.
Noesi set career highs for innings and strikeouts in this, his fourth career start. Topping out at 94 mph, Noesi’s fastball moved, his breaking ball froze hitters and, in the seventh, he broke out a slider.
“Until then, I was just throwing two pitches,” Noesi said.
They were enough.
The closest Oakland came to scoring was the eighth inning when, with two outs and Cliff Pennington at first base, Jemile Weeks bounced a ball over the center-field fence.
Ground-rule double – which meant Pennington had to stop at third instead of scoring. Noesi got his 12th infield popup of the game against Coco Crisp, and called it a night.
After 105 pitches, he handed off to closer Brandon League, who needed work. League faced four batters in the ninth inning and it was over.
Then all Zduriencik had to do to congratulate his young players was show proper identification to Safeco Field security.