ANAHEIM – Walking to the mound with a microscopic earned-run average – to face a team that had beaten him in four of five career decisions – a lot of things might have gone wrong for Erik Bedard.
By the middle of the fifth inning, that 1.86 ERA had gone down, and about all the Seattle Mariners left-hander had to do to beat the Los Angeles Angels was stay upright.
That he did, and the Mariners won their 11th game of the young season Friday, 8-3.
It wasn’t quite that easy.
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“That’s Erik’s third quality start in a row, and what impressed me most was his mound presence,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He had a great strike ratio, and his stuff was just off the chart tonight.”
With Bedard breezing through the first four innings, allowing only a single, all the Mariners could do was stake him to a 1-0 lead.
They did that on one swing, the first by Russell Branyan in a week. Branyan hit his third home run of the season to his opposite field – left – off right-hander Shane Loux. Until the fifth inning, that was the only run of the game.
“Tell you the truth, there might have been a lot of luck in that first swing,” Branyan said. “I was just trying to stay smooth through the swing.”
Oh, the Mariners had other chances, but couldn’t break through, so Bedard had no margin for error, and looked like a man unconcerned with the thought.
“Nothing seemed to phase him,” Wakamatsu said.
Then came the fifth, an inning in which the Mariners broke the game open for Bedard – and then threatened to give it all back.
After scoring six runs and sending 10 men to the plate in the top of the inning, the Mariners did about 30 seconds of a Keystone Cops imitation, letting the Angels back within range in the bottom half.
It was the kind of inning that gives managers – and starting pitchers – shortened careers.
“We kind of kicked it around a little,” Wakamatsu said.
Bedard took the mound in the bottom of the fifth with a 1.54 ERA, then gave up a loud home run to Mike Napoli that made it 7-1. That was Bedard’s fault.
What happened next? Not so much.
Howie Kendrick hit a ground ball that banged off the glove of Jose Lopez at second. Base hit. Robb Quinlan blooped a single into left field. Base hit.
Endy Chavez came up with the ball and threw to third, hoping to get Kendrick, but the throw short-hopped Adrian Beltre, caromed off his shoe and into the stands. That scored Kendrick and sent Quinlan to third, from where he scored on a sacrifice fly.
It left the Mariners ahead, 7-3 – and that lead suddenly didn’t seem quite so insurmountable.
Seattle went back to work in the sixth, and Branyan’s RBI double scored Chavez, who’d led off the inning with his third single.
“Russell’s home run really gave us a spark, and the late RBI gave us a little more room,” Wakamatsu said.
From there, Bedard got another five outs, leaving in the seventh with a man on base and a night’s work of 109 pitches. That was good for his second win of the season and, yes, his record should be better.
After allowing three earned runs in the five innings of his first start, Bedard has now allowed three in the 21 innings of his next three starts. That’s pitching.
This time, he actually got some hitting behind him, too – all nine Seattle starters had at least one hit, and the Mariners finished with a season-high 17. Chavez and Lopez each had three, Ichiro Suzuki, Ken Griffey Jr., Branyan and Rob Johnson two apiece.
Rookie Shawn Kelley pitched the final 2 innings, a career high, and has now worked 7 innings this year without allowing a run.
“He came out, threw about 20-something pitches and gave us 2 innings, really let us save the bullpen,” Wakamatsu said. “That, and we got the bats going a little.”
The victory that pushed the Mariners to their 11-6 record had the added benefit of dropping the Angels – the American League West champions – to 6-10. There may be more than five months left to the season, but having those Angels 41/2 games back is a feeling Seattle has missed.
One thing seems certain. If the other three teams in the West remain under .500, it’s going to be difficult for the Mariners not to contend.