Only something like the Major League Baseball trade deadline could have overshadowed Hisashi Iwakuma’s performance at Safeco Field on Monday night.
The right-hander turned in the best outing of his brief major league career, pitching eight solid innings and setting a Seattle Mariners rookie record with 13 strikeouts in a 4-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, the fifth consecutive win for Seattle.
But the performance was somewhat lost during the game and after it with trades made by both teams.
Toronto’s Travis Snider was removed from the game just moments after he had jogged out to left field before the seventh inning. The Blue Jays had just traded the Everett native and Jackson High graduate to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Brad Lincoln. Snider gathered his gear, hugged his teammates and was gone.
And after the game, when the Mariners expected to celebrate Iwakuma’s first win as a starter and Lucas Luetge’s first career save, they were met with the sobering news that two of their teammates had been traded.
Relievers Brandon League and Steve Delabar were notified when they walked into the clubhouse after the game that they were traded in separate deals.
Delabar, who is 2-1 with a 3.17 earned-run average in 34 appearances, won’t have to go far to report to his new team. He was traded to the Blue Jays for outfielder Eric Thames.
“My emotions are up in the air,” said Delabar, noting that it was the Mariners that gave him a chance when he was substitute teaching in Kentucky. “It never hurts to stay in the big leagues.”
Thames was hitting .335 (65-for-194) with 15 doubles, three triples and six home runs and 32 RBI in 53 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. He has 141 games of big league experience, hitting .257.
League is headed to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return, the Mariners will receive a pair of prospects – outfielder Leon Landry and right-handed pitcher Logan Bawcom.
“I gave a couple high-fives (to celebrate the win) and they called me into the office,” League said.
Was he surprised?
“You can’t ignore the rumors,” he said. “The (trade) deadline is the deadline. For the past three years, I’ve been hearing stuff. I’ve said nothing but express how much I love Seattle and want to stay here. But I’m also a free agent at the end of the year and you never know what might happen.”
League lost his job as closer this season and was demoted to set-up man. He was 0-5 with nine saves and a 3.69 ERA.
“Things didn’t really work out, but I kept pitching and kept trying to help the team,” League said.
Landry is hitting .328 with 26 doubles, 15 triples, eight homers and 51 RBI for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. He will report to Single-A High Desert in the same league. Bawcom is 4-4 with 20 saves and a 2.03 ERA in 39 relief appearances combined in stops in Single-A and Double-A. He will report to Double-A Jackson.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was told before the game he couldn’t use League or Delabar as well as closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was with his wife who was in labor with their first child.
It made what Iwakuma did that much more important.
Iwakuma turned in the best outing as a Mariner and the perhaps the best outing of any Seattle rookie pitcher, throwing eight innings, giving up one run on four hits and striking out 13 – the most by any Mariners rookie in club history.
The previous record of 12 was held by Randy Johnson, Mark Langston and Freddy Garcia. The 13 strikeouts also tied the Mariners’ season high, set by Felix Hernandez on June 29 against Boston.
How good was Iwakuma?
After giving up a leadoff homer to Rajai Davis, he didn’t allow another hit until the fourth inning. He worked out of a bases loaded, one-out mess in the second inning and allowed two runners to make it second base after that.
And then there were the strikeouts.
Iwakuma, who came into the game averaging just over 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings, doubled that output. And he did so against a Blue Jays team that has hit 145 homers this season – second most in the American League (behind the Yankees), and rank in the middle of the AL in strikeouts.
The Blue Jays’ top four hitters of Davis, Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion struck out a combined nine times and managed just Davis’ home run in 16 at-bats against Iwakuma.
And Iwakuma did this with a serious case of jet lag.
He left for Japan on Thursday to be with his ailing father. He returned Saturday.
“I really didn’t think about that,” he said through a translator. “I only thought of the game. I just did the same preparations and mostly tried to pitch.”
The Mariners provided Iwakuma with the run support early. Seattle answered Davis’ home run with two runs in the bottom of the first, scoring on a double-play groundout and a Kyle Seager RBI single.
They added another run in the second on Lawrie’s fielding error on a hard-hit ball by Brendan Ryan.
They picked up an insurance run in the fifth on Michael Saunders’s RBI double.