For the first few innings Jarrod Washburn looked like his typical self – working quickly – efficient and solid but not overwhelming.
But in the innings that followed Washburn elevated himself and his pitching to a level beyond solid.
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The left-hander pitched perhaps the best game of his career and definitely the best game by a Seattle pitcher at Safeco Field on Monday night, twirling a stunning one-hit shutout to lead the Mariners to a 5-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
“I don’t know if you can throw a better game than that,” manager Don Wakamatsu said.
Indeed, no Mariners pitcher has thrown a better one thus far at Safeco. Washburn became the first Mariners pitcher to throw a one-hitter at Safeco Field. Ted Lilly tossed the only other one-hitter in the stadium’s history on April 27, 2002, as a member of the New York Yankees. But the Mariners actually won that game, 1-0.
Washburn didn’t lose this game though. Russell Branyan hit a deep home run to right-center in the first inning to provide the winning run, and the Mariners tacked on four more runs later in the game.
Not that it mattered the way Washburn was pitching. In baseball parlance, he was dealing.
How close was Washburn to perfection? Well, he faced just one hitter over the minimum 27 in the game. He tossed nine innings, allowing just the one hit, while striking out three. The only runner to reach was Nick Markakis, who dropped a soft liner of a single into left field on a 2-2 pitch in the fourth inning.
“It was a sinker in, and it was actually a pretty good pitch,” said catcher Rob Johnson. “He left that one up just a little bit. He didn’t barrel it up, and got jammed a little bit. But it’s part of the game.”
Ryan Langerhans, who was in left field, took some postgame ribbing about not getting to the ball, but the hit actually landed about 15 feet away from him and he had no chance. That still didn’t stop him from lamenting the opportunity.
“With two strikes I moved a couple steps closer to the line,” he said. “I always do that with two strikes. Maybe if I don’t, I have a chance at it.”
Probably not. And it wasn’t as if a perfect game was in consideration in the fourth inning. But Washburn was perfect up to Markakis and perfect afterward, never allowing another hit or another base runner.
“He pitched one of the best games in major league baseball all season,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. “I give the guy credit. He was on his game and certainly pitched a gem.”
Washburn’s brush with perfection didn’t seem to register with him after the game.
“I’m sure it will sink in,” Washburn said. “He hit a good pitch, I haven’t gone back and looked at it. Rob said it was a good pitch, and said it might have even been a ball. He did a good job of staying inside the ball and serving out to left.”
Of course in a game like this, defense plays a huge role and the Mariners certainly made a few solid defensive plays, including a nifty bare-handed play by third baseman Chris Woodward to get Adam Jones in the seventh inning.
“The defense – Ronny Cedeño, Langerhans, Woodward,” Wakamatsu said. “We keep talking about the character of this club. A lot of guys don’t get enough credit, especially the last 10 days. It’s the little things like Woodward stepping up.”
Washburn had some added incentive on Monday as his dad, Mike, was in town from Wisconsin to watch the game.
Washburn said his parents have only seen him pitch in person twice this season – once in Minnesota, where he threw eight shutout innings and Monday’s game. And Washburn showed he isn’t above superstition.
“He’s here till the All-Star break,” Washburn said of his dad. “If I throw another shutout against Texas on Saturday, I might have to make him do some traveling.”
Superstitions aside, Washburn’s improvement this year is obvious. Wakamatsu, who was been around the AL West for quite a while, believes he’s seeing the best form of Washburn’s career.
“I think he’s pitching as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Wakamatsu said. “Even back in the World Series in 2002, I thought he tried to power past guys, but he pitches now. He has more command of certain pitches. You see a lot of left-handers as they get a little older, they get a little more crafty, but he still has good velocity on his fastball, and he’s starting to understand to maybe soften it a little, use his sinker, use his breaking ball to pitch.”
Washburn credits a mechanical change in spring training at the urging of pitching coach Rick Adair and bullpen coach John Wetteland with helping make a difference.
“This year is the best stuff I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’ve always had a two-seam fastball but it never sunk before. The mechanical adjustemnt I made in spring training with the help of Rick and Wette has paid off.
“My two-seamer sinks and I’m getting out a little farther on the ball. It helps my breaking ball, too. That’s what I owe it all to is that mechanical adjustment.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483
Pitchers who have thrown complete-game one-hitters for the Mariners:
6-13-00 Gil Meche *Royals
4-11-07Felix HernandezRed Sox
Read the latest on the Mariners from News Tribune reporters Larry LaRue and Ryan Divish at: