ANAHEIM, Calif. – Wasting another solid Felix Hernandez start, the Seattle Mariners were without an offense again Saturday until two outs into the ninth inning.
Yes, that’s cutting it close.
Jose Lopez hit a two-out, three-run home run that tied the game in the ninth, Miguel Batista kept it tied into the 10th inning and then Yuniesky Betancourt’s short fly ball in the 10th scored Wladimir Balentien – who made a great slide at the plate – to give Seattle a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
“I was sitting here in the clubhouse in the ninth and when Lopez hit that ball I was jumping around and screaming,” Hernandez said. “Was it a big win? Every win is big for us.”
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Hernandez, rocked for six runs the last time he faced the Angels, was a different fellow this time around. He threw strikes – hard strikes, on the hands, on the corners – and got to the seventh in a scoreless tie.
“As I said last night with (Jason) Vargas, Felix set the tone tonight,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He really attacked out there, he pitched with passion. He gave us every chance to win.”
Russell Branyan’s error at first put Maicer Izturis aboard in the seventh inning, and Hernandez made his one glaring mistake, leaving a pitch over too much of the plate, and Erick Aybar doubled Izturis home.
The Mariners at that point had four singles, total.
“It looked like another day when we weren’t swinging the bats well,” Wakamatsu said.
It got worse. Brandon Morrow, summoned to work the eighth inning, gave up two runs, and the Angels’ razor-thin lead ballooned to three, with closer Brian Fuentes coming on to finish Seattle off.
Fuentes gave up Adrian Beltre’s third hit of the night, a one-out single, but got Ken Griffey Jr. on a pop up. Branyan singled to get the game to Lopez.
“Jose Lopez? I can’t explain it, but he seems to have better focus in situations like that,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s a good hitter, but with men in scoring position, late in games, he’s more focused.”
At the plate, Lopez was looking for something he could hit out. Base hit? No, thank you.
“In that situation, I’ve got to swing hard. I’ve got to think home run,” Lopez said. “But a home run against a closer? That’s tough.”
When Lopez hit the ball, the trajectory was close – it looked for a moment as if it might hit the left- field wall. What it needed, obviously, was a little help from the Seattle dugout.
“When Lopez hit that ball in the ninth, everybody in the dugout starting yelling ‘Get out. ball!’ ” Balentien said. “We were going crazy.”
Batista pitched out of a ninth inning jam to take it to the 10th, and Balentien, a mid-game substitution for starter Endy Chavez, grounded a ball inside third base for a leadoff double.
Franklin Gutierrez bunted him to third, and the Angels intentionally walked Ichiro Suzuki.
Betancourt lifted a fly ball to shallow left field, but Gary Matthews Jr. had to take it on the run, moving toward the foul line. Balentien took off, and the throw got to the plate about the same time he did.
“It was a good throw, but I saw the catcher move to the outside to take it, so I slid to the inside,” Balentien said.
The Angels appealed, believing Balentien had left the bag early.
Much of the night, Hernandez had the Angels pounding the ball into the dirt, getting three ground ball double plays to keep Los Angeles from breaking through.
It was a dramatic win that gives Seattle a chance to complete a sweep today. It also left the Mariners one game behind second place Los Angeles in the American League West standings.
And, for numbers crunchers, it was their third win in a row – something they hadn’t put together since late April.
“We’ve got an awful lot of games left, and the one thing this team has never done is give up,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s been a bit of a struggle this month, but the attitude has never wavered. These guys come to the park to work every day, and when the game starts they play with intensity. I think they believe in themselves. I know I believe in them.”