On the 10th pitch of a ninth inning at-bat on a nasty-cold night with the smallest crowd in Safeco Field history mostly gone, Luis Rodriguez singled home two runs for the most improbable victory of the Seattle Mariners' season.
Granted, it’s only 10 games old, but the Mariners trailed the Toronto Blue Jays by seven runs Monday, then scored eight runs in the final three innings for an 8-7 victory.
That it came in a game when Felix Hernandez got roughed up may have made it all the more implausible.
Their ace didn’t have his best stuff or a lot of support while pitching the first six innings. The Mariners played the kind of baseball that had seen them start the season 2-7, and saw them draw 13,056 to the park Monday.
Still, Michael Saunders opened the ninth inning with a double, was bunted to third base and dangled there as the potential tying run. Pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy grounded out. Ichiro Suzuki was intentionally walked – and stole second base.
And Rodriguez, in the game only because Chone Figgins bruised a thumb in the third inning, hammered a pitch from reliever Shawn Camp deep into the right-center field alley.
"I had to swing at everything, anything close to the plate," Rodriguez said. "I got my pitch and hit it."
Two runs scored, and the Mariners exploded from their dugout in celebration.
“Camp should never have gotten out there," Blue Jays reliever Mark Rzepczynski said. "We should have got those guys out. It was one of those innings that every thing that could go wrong did go wrong."
Most of the night, the Mariners had made mistakes that put them in a hole no one figured they’d get out of.
With Seattle down just 1-0 and Jose Bautista at first base in the third inning, the Mariners had the kind of what-in-the-world-are-they-doing-now? effort that triggered a two-run Blue Jays flurry.
Bautista broke for second base, and catcher Miguel Olivo’s throw had him beat, so he turned back to first. Jack Wilson took the throw, ran toward first and flipped the ball to Justin Smoak, who ran Bautista back toward second base.
At this point, television replays showed, shortstop Brendan Ryan was somewhere between shallow center field and whatever the rest of the infield was doing. When he got back near second, he took the throw, slapped at the runner, fell down and dropped the ball.
The ruling? Stolen base.
The inning went south from there, ending with the Mariners behind, 3-0. When Felix wild-pitched a run home in the two-run fourth, the flag was up.
Winning would have required eight runs, and the Mariners hadn’t scored that many in a game this year.
During a seven-game losing streak, Seattle had scored 18 runs. If they’d lost this one, the Mariners would have awakened today seven games out of first place in the American League West.
When the season began, manager Eric Wedge said the team might get worse before it got better, but it would get better. For one thing, he and his staff were going to see just what they had – and what they didn’t – and let the team evolve.
They’re learning. And evolution is inching along.
By the time the Mariners scored, on Milton Bradley’s home run in the seventh inning, most of that intimate crowd and the game were gone.
Still, any number of tough at-bats had run up the pitch count for Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch, who departed after five innings and 111 pitches. When Toronto had to get four innings from its bullpen, it came up one-third of an inning short.
"A tough night on the mound," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "Anytime you walk 11 guys and still be in the game. Things obviously had to go right for us in the first part of it, but we simply lost the strike zone, to say the least."
The comeback included three bases-loaded walks in the eighth inning, when the M’s cut their deficit to 7-6.
Before long, the team will be getting veterans Franklin Gutierrez and David Aardsma back, which will give the bullpen more depth and the defense of a legitimate center fielder.
Tough decisions. Bradley is the starting left fielder, and though he has no future in Seattle beyond 2011, he singled, homered and walked with the bases loaded in the win and has played well.
Saunders, who needs a place to play regularly, had two hits, a walk and a stolen base Monday. He is showing signs that he may be the player the team once was certain he’d be.
If Gutierrez was healthy today, where would Saunders be – Tacoma?
That’s one of the calls Wedge and the team will have to make in the coming weeks, and they’ll need more games like this to get their fan base believing it’s worthwhile coming to the park again.
"We really broke through there in the eighth inning," manager Eric Wedge said. "(Michael) Saunders got the big hit to lead things off after that in the ninth. You can't say enough about that at-bat that Luis Rodriguez had. Nine of 10 pitches with the game on the line right there, fighting through it, fouling some pitches off and ultimately came through and you love to see that. It was a good win for us."
The Associated Press contributed to this report