Long balls, little things help Mariners take series sweep

mariners 5, Tigers 4: Smoak, Olivo go deep, and bullpen does the rest in taking 3 straight in Detroit

larry.larue@thenewstribune.comApril 27, 2012 

DETROIT – Eric Wedge talks about players having a certain heartbeat on the field, the ability to remain calm when it matters most.

Brandon League thinks of it more simply.

“You don’t change because of pressure, you deal with it,” League said.

With a pair of runners on base, one out and a one-run lead, League stared down Alex Avila, got a ground-ball double play and preserved the 5-4 victory Thursday that gave the Seattle Mariners a three-game sweep.

“That’s a huge turnaround for us,” said reliever Charlie Furbush, whose perfect inning got him a victory. “We came to play in this series and today, we shook off the Chicago series.”

Oh, that.

After losing four in a row – three to the White Sox at home – the Mariners came to the Motor City and won games by scores of 7-4, 9-1 and 5-4.

In the finale, the Mariners got a three-hit game from Chone Figgins, whose double snapped a 4-4 tie in the seventh. They got one huge swing from Justin Smoak, whose first-inning home run put three runs on the board.

And they got a solo home run from Miguel Olivo.

“Figgy had a big day, Smoak got us going, and Olivo continues to get better at the plate,” Wedge said. “We won three different types of games in this series, and that has to give these guys more confidence going into Toronto.”

Seattle hit the Canadian border with a 10-10 record after 20 games, a stretch in which the Mariners are clearly still feeling their way – except, perhaps, in the bullpen.

When starter Hector Noesi lost all of a 4-0 lead and was chased in the sixth inning, the bullpen was asked to hold Detroit in check while getting 12 outs.

Furbush got three of those outs, rookie Steve Delabar got one, rookie Lucas Luetge two, Tom Wilhelmsen three and League three.

Twelve outs without allowing a run? Rack ’em up.

“This whole series, we picked each other up – pitchers or hitters,” Furbush said. “We beat a great team with a great series.”

Aside from the relief work and the home runs, there were little things the Mariners used to beat the Tigers

League gave up a ground-ball single, Detroit bunted Don Kelly to second base, and Ryan Raburn grounded sharply down the left-field line.

If the ball gets past Alex Liddi at third base, it’s a tie game. Liddi somehow smothered it, came up and faked a throw but held the ball to hold the Tigers at first and second base.

“Robby (Thompson) had just moved him, shaded Liddi toward the line, and Alex made a great play to keep it in the infield,” Wedge said. “When he faked the throw, he was trying to deke the runner at second base.

“I know he deked me. I thought he was going to throw it.”

The play saved Seattle’s lead, and League finished it by getting Avila to ground into a Dustin Ackley-to-Brendan Ryan-to-Smoak double play.

“I got the ground ball I wanted, and this time it was at somebody,” League said, smiling. “I’ve learned to control my adrenaline out there. I come in with plenty, but it doesn’t rise or fall because of what happens in the inning.

“With two guys on base, I was fine. In the past, I’ve had my adrenaline go up or down. It doesn’t work.”

Figgins, the leadoff man who heard his manager issue a warning to him before the game, came in batting .206. By game’s end, he was at .236.

“I swung at my pitch, was aggressive when I got it,” Figgins said. “Last week at home, we all saw some good pitches. I’ve seen a lot of good pitches lately.

“This series, we got a few mistakes and didn’t miss them.”

One of those was Smoak’s third home run.

Batting .197, he has searched for consistency from either side of the plate. Batting left-handed in the first inning, he fell behind Detroit starter Rick Porcello.

“He’d thrown me a first-pitch change-up, then a couple of fastballs and I’d fouled one back – just missed it,” Smoak said. “So with two strikes, I wasn’t sitting on anything.

“He threw me a change-up up, and you’ve got to do something with that pitch.”

Smoak did, and gave the Mariners three runs.

It wasn’t enough to win, but Seattle would have lost without it.

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners Twitter: @LarryLaRue

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