SEATTLE — June was a dreadful month for the Mariners, who ought to be glad to flip the calendar in the hope of better times ahead. That said, they sent June packing with a satisfying kick in the pants.
Taijuan Walker returned to the rotation in top form by pitching into the seventh inning, and the Mariners, finally, solved long-time nemesis Chris Tillman in a 5-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field.
So goodbye to a 10-18 month.
"There’s a story yet to be written is the way I look at it," manager Scott Servais said. "The discussions I had with our veteran group today, they understand where we’re at.
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"We need to play well to get this thing going in the right direction."
There were anxious moments at the end, but the Mariners held on for a victory that pulled them back over .500 at 40-39 and halted Baltimore’s seven-game winning streak.
The highlight was Walker (4-6) returning to the tantalizing form that he flashed in April, when he appeared to be harnessing his potential as an emerging ace.
Walker was 1-6 with a 4.44 ERA in his last 10 starts and had missed his last turn though the rotation after tendinitis in his right foot forced an early departure in his previous two outings.
The problems surfaced again Thursday but, this time, he carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning.
"I guess it’s something I have to pitch through," he said. "Knowing that nothing is structurally wrong, I can still go out there and pitch. Before, I didn’t know. I thought it was my Achilles’. So I didn’t want to use my legs.
"Now that I know there’s nothing structurally wrong with it, I can still use my legs. I’ll just have to pitch through it for now."
The Mariners carried a 5-1 lead into the eighth, but the Orioles got the tying run to the plate against a shaky Joaquin Benoit before Servais called on closer Steve Cishek for a four-out save.
"It’s a little concerning," Servais said. "Jack just hasn’t been right mechanically. His timing is off. Walks — that’s what you never see from him. We’ve seen it a few times. We certainly need him.
"(Rookie Edwin) Diaz has done an outstanding job for us, but we need more than one guy to (get to) Cishek."
Cishek gave up an RBI single before protecting a two-run lead by striking out Chris Davis with two runners on base. Cishek then pitched around Mark Trumbo’s leadoff single in the ninth for his 19th save in 23 chances.
Tillman (10-2) entered the game at 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA in nine previous starts against the Mariners, but he exited after thrown 112 pitches through 4 2/3 innings while giving up four runs and six hits.
The Mariners selected Tillman in the second round of the 2006 draft but shipped him to the Orioles with center fielder Adam Jones and three other players in a disastrous 2008 trade for pitcher Erik Bedard.
"He’s a guy who doesn’t like to throw to the middle of the plate," said Seth Smith, who had a two-run homer in a three-run fourth inning.
"He likes to pitch around the edges. He does really well with that. Sometimes with those guys, you’ve got to wait them out a little bit."
Walker lost his shutout when Hyun Soo Kim opened the seventh inning with a homer to right. When Davis flicked a one-out single to left, Servais pulled Walker for Diaz, who struck out the next two hitters.
The Mariners answered that run back later in the inning against reliever Dylan Bundy after Nelson Cruz reached third on a one-out double combined with a Jones error in center.
It required another Baltimore mistake to score the run.
After an intentional walk to Kyle Seager, Dae-Ho Lee appeared to hit into an inning-ending double play. But second baseman Jonathan Schoop wasn’t on the base when he took the throw.
Servais convinced crew chief Mike Winters to review the call which, when overturned, resulted in a run and a 5-1 lead.
"That’s an outstanding job by our replay guy, Chris Prieto," Servais said. With the naked eye, you’re not really locked in on that. You can’t see it. (Prieto) is on it. He’s communicating with (bench coach) Tim Bogar.
"A huge run in the game, and we really owe it to Chris."
PLAY(S) OF THE GAME: Center fielder Leonys Martin made a running, leaping catch on the warning track when Mark Trumbo, the former Mariner, crushed a 2-1 fastball with one out in the second inning.
Martin bounced off the padded wall after making the catch, which drew an appreciative hat wave from Taijuan Walker.
If anything, Martin topped that play in the fourth inning by playing the carom off the right-center wall on Manny Machado’s two-out drive. Martin made a strong throw to second that forced Machado to retreat to first.
Shortstop Ketel Marte took Martin’s throw and threw a dart to first that caught Machado before he could get back.
PLUS: Left fielder Seth Smith hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning after failing in an attempt to beat an overshifted infield when he fouled off a bunt. Smith also thwarted Baltimore’s comeback in the eighth inning by making a running catch in the gap on J.J. Hardy’s one-out liner…Kyle Seager reached 50 RBIs with a run-scoring single in the first inning…Nelson Cruz reached base four times with two doubles, a walk and by getting hit by a pitch…rookie Edwin Diaz faced two hitters in the seventh inning and struck out both. He has 23 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
MINUS: Joaquin Benoit nearly let a four-run lead get away in the eighth inning. He faced five batters and allowed a walk and two singles…the Mariners made it tougher than it needed to be by getting just one hit in 10 chances with a runner in scoring position
STAT PACK: Orioles starter Chris Tillman lost for the first time since April 14 at Texas. He was 9-0 with a 3.28 ERA in his previous 13 starts…the Mariners have three players with at least 50 RBIs: Robinson Cano 54, Nelson Cruz 53 and Kyle Seager 50.
QUOTABLE: "I need to be able to bunt if they give it to you," Seth Smith said regarding his failed bunt attempt before hitting a two-run homer. "I was trying to get it down. I’d have been happy if I’d gotten the bunt down."
SHORT HOPS: Nelson Cruz has reached base safely at least once in 46 of 49 career games against Baltimore. He played for the Orioles in 2014 before signing a four-year deal with the Mariners as a free agent…Taijuan Walker retired the first 11 Orioles before giving up a two-out single in the fourth inning…Robinson Cano has reached base safely at least once in 21 of his last 22 games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners