Good teams take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes, something the Seattle Mariners had seen work against them often in their first 30 games.
So when the Detroit Tigers took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning Monday night, the Mariners turned it into their first walk-off win of the season – a 3-2 victory in their 31st game.
“We were in the game all night and they gave us a chance in the ninth inning,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We had to finish that inning off, and we did. It was a fantastic feeling.”
A Safeco Field crowd of 14,462 likely agreed, although what they’d seen in the first eight innings was, by any standards, odd baseball.
Start with Blake Beavan, who took a Miguel Cabrera line drive off his right elbow in the third inning – then watched it carom into an inning-ending double play that ended his performance.
“It was like a 200-mph fastball back at me, and all I could do was slightly turn my body,” Beavan said. “It hit me right on the elbow. I was numb for 20-25 minutes.”
Or, take the two Detroit runs – both driven in or set up by towering opposite-field pop flies from Prince Fielder that dropped in.
The Mariners’ bullpen worked the final six innings, getting Seattle to the ninth down by two runs.
Then veteran Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel lost the strike zone, and the Mariners wouldn’t help him.
Brendan Ryan drew the first walk, Ichiro Suzuki the second – and Dotel wild-pitched them to second and third base. Dotel then wild-pitched Ryan home to make it 2-1.
Rookie catcher Jesus Montero hammered a slider to straightaway center that banged off the wall and scored Ichiro, an RBI double that tied the game.
“I thought he’d ended it right there,” Seattle’s John Jaso said. “He really drove that ball, and I thought it was out.”
Pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki was bunted from second base to third by Kyle Seager, bringing Jaso to the plate.
“I was looking for something I could hit to the outfield, and (Duane Below) threw me a high slider,” Jaso said. “When he threw me a second one, I was on it.”
Jaso flied to right field, Kawasaki scampered home and the Mariners buried Kawasaki and Jaso on the infield.
“I’ve done the beating up in those kind of things but never had the treatment done to me,” Jaso said. “That’s my first walk-off anything.”
The Mariners’ third consecutive win was also their fourth in a row against the Tigers (14-14), who have to be wondering what it takes to beat Seattle.
The least surprised man in Safeco Field might have been Detroit starter Doug Fister – who lost plenty of times in precisely this way while pitching for the Mariners.
Fister, in his first game off the disabled list, was masterful. Over seven innings, he used 73 pitches to shut out the Mariners, then turned the lead over to his bullpen.
Over seven innings, Fister got 10 groundball outs, and the Mariners never really drove a ball against him, settling for softly lined doubles up the alleys in left- and right-center field.
The right-hander traded to Detroit for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and a minor leaguer put together a marvelously efficient night. He struck out three.
Beavan and the Mariners couldn’t match that because Fielder’s towering first-inning pop up turned into an RBI double. With everyone shading Fielder to pull, he hit a ball toward the left-field foul line.
Third baseman Seager, left fielder Mike Carp and shortstop Ryan gave pursuit, and at the last instant Ryan made a dive for the ball – only to have it kick off his glove.
It gave Detroit a 1-0 lead.
Beavan was in a slight third-inning jam after giving up a pair of singles with one out, bringing up Cabrera, the Tigers’ best hitter. In a quicker-than-the-eye-can-follow instant, Cabrera lined a ball that Beavan had no chance to avoid.
It hit him on the right elbow, and caromed to Seager at third, who then completed a 1-5-4-3 double play that might have been the oddest ever turned at Safeco Field.
“I guess my elbow gets credit for an assist,” Beavan said. “I sacrificed my body for the team.”
Beavan walked silently off the field and into the dugout. He didn’t come out again.
“We’ll have to see how it feels, how the swelling is (today),” Wedge said. “The X-rays showed no break, but I’m not sure about him making his next start.”
If he doesn’t, Hisashi Iwakuma, who made his third appearance of the season Monday, might get the spot start.
Iwakuma went three innings, allowed a run and struck out five.
“He used his off-speed stuff more, which really set up his fastball,” Wedge said. “He pitched well.”
Then came the ninth.
“There’s no better feeling in baseball than a win like that,” Jaso said.