For six innings, the offense picked up Seattle starting pitcher Luke French, and after that, the Mariners bullpen flattened the Chicago White Sox.
Heroes were plentiful in the Mariners’ 59th victory of the season, a 6-4 decision in which Seattle used the home run, the stolen base and well-timed single to entertain a Safeco Field crowd of 21,049.
Ken Griffey Jr. had a two-run single, Russell Branyan and Kenji Johjima both homered and Michael Saunders, Jack Wilson and Adrian Belte each stole a base.
Relievers Sean White and Mark Lowe got the outs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
And then, there was David Aardsma and The Boil.
Well documented and well-lanced, the boil on Aardsma’s rear hadn’t taken the mound with him in a save situation. Without it, the right-hander had 26 saves this season.
While story lines abounded Monday – could the Mariners creep deeper into the wild-card race, would French give them a quality start, could they push their win total to within two of their ’08 total – the biggest question might have been whether Aardsma and The Boil could close together.
Yes, no, yes and yes.
“Once I get stretched out, I’m fine,” Aardsma said after notching save No. 27. “It was a big game, because those guys are fighting for a playoff spot just like we are.”
Are the Mariners now taking themselves seriously at 59-53?
“We always have,” Aardsma said. “Maybe other people are taking us more seriously now.”
It was a back-and-forth game all evening, with neither team able to hold a lead more than an inning until the Mariners rolled out three runs in the sixth, riding the home runs of Branyan and Johjima.
From that point on, the White Sox had three base runners – and two of those were erased on double plays.
“White got us out of trouble and probably saved the game with one out and men on second and third base in the sixth,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “They could have pushed out to a bigger lead. He held them to the one-run lead.”
And beyond that?
“Mark Lowe is dominating,” Wakamatsu said. “A tough breaking ball and a 99-mph fastball? He’s just getting better and better.”
Aardsma and The Boil?
“I’m comfortable with the boil,” he said. “More comfortable than David is.”
Luke French was never razor sharp, but he was effective enough through four innings to have shut out Chicago and been given a 2-0 lead after Griffey Jr. singled home two runs. To that point, French had allowed one hit – and picked Scott Podsednik off first after his first-inning single.
In the fifth, however, a one-out double put him in some trouble and a two-out walk of No. 8 hitter Jayson Nix (.226) made it a little worse. Facing the White Sox No. 9 batter, Ramon Castro (.136), French delivered a thigh-high pitch away that Castro clubbed into right center field for two runs.
The Mariners scrambled right back to give French a 3-2 lead, using a one-out walk to Michael Saunders and his subsequent stolen base – the first of his major league career – to set up Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro singled Saunders home but, inexplicably, rounded first too far and was caught for the second out. Still, French had a lead again.
He couldn’t seem to handle it.
“It was an emotional game and for 42/3 innings he was outstanding,” Wakamatsu said. “I think he got caught up in it a bit. Early on, he attacked the strike zone. In the sixth, he got too fine.”
In short order, French walked Gordon Beckham and Jermaine Dye, struck out Jim Thome and then, on his 89th pitch of the night, walked Paul Konerko to load the bases. And that was that.
White gave up Carlos Quentin’s two-run double, but got out of the inning cheaply enough, with Seattle down a run, 4-3.
Two outs into the Seattle sixth, Russell Branyan delivered again.
A day after hitting a grand slam to help Seattle beat Tampa Bay, he tied this game with a solo home run off the signage on the second deck in right field – his 27th home run of the season.
“Russell is just a weapon,” Wakamatsu said. “He can hit it out of any park, in any direction.”
Branyan’s home run sparked the Seattle dugout, and after Jack Wilson walked, reliever Tony Pena came in and gave up Kenji Johjima’s fourth home run of the year, in just his second back-to-back start since July 4-5.
He’ll get a third in a row tonight, in large part because Rob Johnson has a tender elbow and needs a few days off.
Aardsma doesn’t want any, boil or no boil.
“We win (tonight), we win the series,” Aardsma said.