Seattle Mariners

Washburn not left wanting

This is how badly the Seattle Mariners wanted to beat the Texas Rangers in this four-game series – they even scored for Jarrod Washburn.

As has been well-documented, since the dawn of time no one has ever had less run support than Washburn, a 34-year-old left-hander whose earned run average (2.96) seems awfully low for a man with a 6-6 record.

And two starts ago, he was 4-6.

Washburn won a one-hitter in his last start, and was tied in the seventh inning Saturday, 1-1, and headed out of the game after 94 pitches. Then the Mariners did the unthinkable – they scored three times to beat the Rangers, 4-1.

The win went to Washburn, and the loss knocked Texas out of first place in the American League West.

Was it as satisfying, he was asked, as the one-hitter to hold Texas to one run?

“No,” Washburn said, laughing. “But it was very satisfying, holding that lineup to one run. I missed a few spots, but not many.”

If getting Washburn the runs to win was a surprise, the way the Mariners got those runs for him was astonishing.

After the Rangers scored a run on Ian Kinsler’s third-inning double, Russell Branyan evened it up with a massive shot to right field, his 22nd of the season and 12th at Safeco Field.

From there, Washburn and Texas workhorse Kevin Millwood traded shutout innings until the eighth, when Washburn was in the dugout knowing his work was done for the night.

Millwood was facing the bottom of the Seattle lineup, which included Rob Johnson (.199), newcomer Jack Hannahan (.193) and Ronny Cedeño (.152).

So what happened?

Ryan Langerhans singled and, after missing a bunt attempt, Johnson hammered his first home run of the season, sailing it beyond the Mariners’ bullpen in left-center field. Hannahan doubled, Cedeño bunted him to third and Ichiro Suzuki singled him home.

Voil! It was a three-run rally from the guys who figured to make, say, nine outs a night between them?

“I was mad at myself for not getting the bunt down,” Johnson said. “The team asked me to do it, I failed.”

Did the two-run home run make up for it?

“Maybe,” he allowed.

It was a victory reminiscent of so many of the Mariners’ wins this season, built on marvelous pitching and defense, and just enough offense.

“We all know our jobs, and my job is to help the pitchers keep the other team at three runs or less,” catcher Johnson said. “If I do that, our chances of winning are much better.”

There was another factor at play in this one – a crowd of 30,698.

“The players feel it,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “The home crowds have been electric. They’ve had our backs.”

Washburn, meanwhile, had the Rangers in knots.

Coming off that one-hit shutout of Baltimore, where he threw 110 pitches, Washburn was efficient through seven in this one. Knowing Texas’ hitters love the fastball, Washburn threw more change-ups than usual, mixed speeds on his fastball and didn’t overpower the Rangers as much as confuse them.

“He’s such a different pitcher now than he was,” Johnson said. “That cut fastball he throws is never over the middle of the plate. The sinker he throws is never over the middle. He hits both corners, inside and out, with a couple of pitches.”

And for all that, after seven innings, the game was tied. Which figured.

Since the start of the 2005 season, Washburn has the lowest run support (4.20) of any American League pitcher. In 64 games since then, his team has scored two runs or fewer for him 64 times.

Once the Mariners rallied to go ahead, Wakamatsu went to his bullpen.

“Mark Lowe came in and topped out at 99 mph on the black,” Wakamatsu said. “Then we got to David Aardsma and he topped out at 97 mph. I can’t say enough about our bullpen.”

No need. The numbers are loud enough.

For Aardsma, who began the season with nearly three seasons behind him – and not one career save – 2009 has been beyond his best hopes. Someone asked after this one if, coming out of spring training as the setup man, he’d have taken his current statistics for the full year.

“Are you kidding? I’d have asked ‘Where do I sign?’ ” Aardsma said. “But now that you’re here, you want more.”

For Seattle, Aardsma’s first half numbers work just fine: In 41 appearances, he’s 2-3 with a 2.01 ERA and 19 saves in 21 chances. Opposing batters are hitting .180 against him.

Taking two of the first three games from the Rangers made the Mariners happy enough they even teased Wakamatsu.

“After he homered, I asked Rob ‘Is that your first?’ and he said, ‘No, don’t you remember? I hit one against you last year when you were coaching in Oakland,’ ” Wakamatsu said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

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