SEATTLE – It was on a similar sun-drenched Sunday at Safeco Field just two weeks ago that the Seattle Mariners won a dramatic 15-inning game with a walk-off hit by Jose Lopez.
In the two weeks and 12 games that followed, the Mariners went on a woeful 2-10 run filled with anemic offense and late-game collapses. The stretch saw the Mariners sink from first place in the American League West to third and left fans wondering if April was just a bright aberration in the dark reality of another losing season.
On this sun-drenched Sunday, it appeared the Mariners were headed for extra innings, but the possibility of a dramatic win didn’t seem quite as likely, given the recent run of losses.
However, the gift of a throwing error by Boston shortstop Nick Green in the ninth inning followed by an intentional walk to Ichiro Suzuki and a game-winning hit from Franklin Gutierrez gave Seattle a 3-2 victory at packed Safeco Field.
“I didn’t want extra innings,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t think anybody wanted it.”
With the win, the Mariners (18-20) took the only series they will play at home this season with the perennial power from the American League East. Seattle won two of three games using starting pitchers who were afterthoughts for the rotation at the beginning of the season.
“Coming off a road trip like we did, to be able to get on track against a team like Boston … it is a tremendous credit to the character of this club,” manager Don Wakamatsu said.
The simple difference between winning two of three and losing two of three is immeasurable in terms of confidence and attitude to a struggling team.
“Look at us, we lost games just like that,” said reliever David Aardsma, who picked up a save on Friday and a win on Sunday. “We got beat at the end like that. To go out and beat a team like that, we should know we can beat anybody.”
Things were looking iffy for a win in regulation when reliever Ramon Ramirez and his minuscule 0.44 ERA were cruising through the bottom of the ninth.
With two outs in the 2-2 tie, Ronny Cedeño’s slow grounder deep in the hole at short allowed the Seattle shortstop, who beat out a similar grounder during the seventh inning with a headfirst slide, to reach first base standing up. And when Green’s hurried throw sailed over the head of first baseman Jeff Bailey and into the stands, Cedeño took second.
What initially was ruled an error by the official scorer later was changed to a single with an error on the base advance, something with which Cedeño agreed.
“Yeah, I would’ve beaten it out,” he said with a smile.
Statistics and official rulings aside, the play gave the Mariners a glimmer of hope.
Boston (22-16) then smartly and predictably walked Ichiro Suzuki to set up a force play and bring up Gutierrez.
“I knew they were going to do it,” Gutierrez said. “Ichiro’s a lefty, and he hits right-handed pitchers good. It’s part of the game. It’s how teams play, and you have to take advantage of it.”
And so he did by lining a base-hit into left, scoring Cedeño and setting off a wild celebration on the field and in the stands from the outnumbered Mariners fans in the crowd of 40,833.
“To play in front of a crowd like that is true baseball,” Wakamatsu said.
The way they were going a week ago, the Mariners might not have gotten a break like Green gave them and probably wouldn’t have taken advantage if they had.
“You have two outs and he air-mails it, you can’t mess that up,” Aardsma said. “He gave us the winning run, and you have to capitalize on it. Those are things that when we were losing, we weren’t capitalizing on, but now we are.”
For all the good feelings, the Seattle offense wasn’t exactly dominating. The Mariners did just enough to support a workmanlike effort from starter Jason Vargas, who pitched 5 innings and allowed just two runs on seven hits. He even pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the fifth.
“It’s mentally draining turning over that lineup two or three times,” Vargas said of pitching to the Red Sox. “They have a lot of veteran hitters that will hit mistakes, and you have to limit that.”
The Mariners managed only two runs off Red Sox starter Justin Masterson, not that there weren’t opportunities for more. The Mariners got nine hits against him and stranded nine runners in the game.
Seattle scored two runs in the second when Russell Branyan led off with a solo homer to right – his team-high ninth homer of the season – Yuniesky Betancourt hit a two-out double to left, and Cedeño followed with a triple to left.
“I just reached out and hit the slider,” Cedeño said.
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483