BOSTON - It's a concept that seemed somewhere between implausible and laughable a week ago.
If you had told someone the Seattle Mariners would sweep their six-game road trip starting in Detroit and ending Boston, you would have been shrugged off as a hopeless homer or an ignorant fool.
But following their 2-0 win over the Red Sox on Saturday night, the Mariners are 5-0 on the trip with reigning Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez slated to start today’s game.
Who’s laughing now?
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It was the first time the Red Sox have been shutout at Fenway Park since April 22, 2010, when the Rangers did it.
“That’s not easy to do in this ballpark,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
How exactly did the Mariners (13-15) get to this point?
There was timely hitting, good starting pitching, solid relief appearances, some help from the other team and luck.
“We can’t talk about it yet, we still have tomorrow,” Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo said about the road trip. “We’ve got some hits, we’ve got good pitching, we’ve been playing better, we won some games and we’ve been lucky too.”
In so many ways, the Mariners had no business winning Saturday’s game. Yet they did.
Starting pitcher Doug Fister labeled his outing a “constant battle” and a “constant struggle.” Reliever Aaron Laffey said it was the worst he felt on the mound this season. Oh, and the Mariners left 10 men on base and had Milton Bradley thrown out of the game in the third inning, moments after he gave them a 1-0 lead on a double that snapped an 0-for-22 streak.
On the next at-bat, Olivo was called out at first on grounder to third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who hesitated on the play. Replays showed he was clearly safe. Wedge argued with first base umpire Todd Tichenor. Moments after he left the field, Bradley was ejected by second base umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis for continuing to yell at Tichenor from second base. Bradley was restrained by third base coach Jeff Datz before leaving the field.
But with all that working against the Mariners, they still prevailed.
Did luck play a part? Perhaps.
In the fifth inning with runners on first and, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia hit a pair of balls – one down each baseline – that would have been certain doubles. But both went foul by inches.
Instead, he drew one of Fister’s five walks to load the bases. Adrian Gonzalez then ripped a line drive to second that Jack Wilson caught and flipped to second to double off Jacoby Ellsbury. Fister then got Kevin Youkilis to pop out to Justin Smoak in foul territory to end the threat.
“He really competes out there,” Wedge said. “It looks to me like he’s at his best when it’s a tough situation.”
Fister found himself in plenty of them all night, starting in the first inning when the Red Sox loaded the bases with one out. But Fister struck out David Ortiz and coaxed a fly ball from J.D. Drew to get out unscathed.
“You talk about working and making pitches, that’s incredible effort right there,” Wedge said. “He really bows his neck and gets after it.”
The first inning would be indicative of the rest of Fister’s night.
He had just one inning – the second – where a runner didn’t reach base.
“It was definitely a struggle,” Fister said. “Most important for me tonight was trying to keep it down. It felt like a constant struggle. I kept missing up, kept missing off the plate.”
Yet he still somehow gave the Mariners 52/3 shutout innings, giving up five hits, walking five batters and striking out four.
“You gotta make pitches up here in general, but especially against a team with a group of hitters like that,” Wedge said. “They made him work. But he never gave into them. By not giving in, he gave himself every opportunity to work through it and that’s what he did.”
Fister also got some help from his defense and bullpen. He left with two outs in the sixth with runners on first and second, giving way to Laffey.
The little left-hander fell behind 2-0 to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, then got him to pop up a pitch into foul territory near the fence between the backstop and the Boston dugout. Olivo raced over and made a brilliant catch fighting off a pair of Red Sox fans in the process.
“Yeah a couple of them hit me,” he said. “But I was going to make that catch no matter what.”
It drew a rare burst of emotion from Fister as he watched from the dugout.
“That’s momentum,” he said. “Everybody came back in the dugout after that and had fire in their eyes and were ready to play. We came out from the get-go with that, but those kinds of plays, the double-play line drive from Adrian Gonzalez, those kinds of things really turn things around.”
Like Fister, Laffey found himself in trouble in the seventh with runners on second and third with two outs after walking Gonzalez and giving up a double to Kevin Youkilis.
Facing Ortiz, Laffey got ahead 0-2 and after a few curveballs in the dirt, he got him to harmlessly fly out.
“Considering that pretty much every hitter before that I was falling behind, it was big to get ahead,” he said. “I went with a four-seamer in and it was enough to get him hit a lazy fly ball.”
Despite “feeling he had nothing out there,” Laffey pitched 2 innings of shutout baseball before giving way to Brandon League, who picked up his seventh save in seven chances.