Who doesn’t like Christmas, even in June? The Seattle Mariners ought to be big fans after marking the occasion Friday with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker delivered another shutdown performance by shaking off a first-inning home run from Mike Trout and allowing nothing more through seven innings.
The Mariners’ attack … well, it did just enough against Angels starter Matt Shoemaker before Robinson Cano provided an insurance run with a booming homer against reliever Fernando Salas.
It all came in a festive setting at Angel Stadium, which was decked out in holiday trappings to mark a Christmas in June promotion.
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“It’s a great win,” Cano said. “This is a team in our division. Those are the teams we’ve got to beat if we want to stay in the race.”
Walker is 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts with 44 strikeouts and three walks in 421/3 innings. He is back to .500 at 6-6 overall, and his ERA is down to 4.64.
“I’m more confident when I’m out there,” he said, “especially when I get in big situations. I’m trusting Zee (catcher Mike Zunino) back there. He’s calling the right pitches, and I’m executing them.”
Walker’s ERA was 8.74, remember, after his first five starts.
“The growth that this young man has shown over the course of the last five or six weeks has just been tremendous,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Tonight, he never panicked.”
Charlie Furbush replaced Walker to start in the eighth. Furbush’s job was to retire Kole Calhoun, which he did on three swinging strikes. Then it was Carson Smith for the two big right-handers: Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
“I thought that was the most important point of the game,” McClendon said. “I wanted that guy (Smith) in the game at that particular time.”
It sort of worked.
Trout grounded a single up the first-base line against an overshifted infield. Smith jumped ahead 0-2 on Pujols before throwing four consecutive balls, which put runners at first and second with one out.
But Smith stranded both runners by getting Johnny Giavotella to ground into a double play. Giavotella was batting instead of Erick Aybar, who exited the game in the seventh inning because of a tight left hamstring.
Smith’s escape got the game to the ninth — and to Fernando Rodney in his first save opportunity since blowing a lead in a June 2 loss to the New York Yankees.
Rodney pitched around a one-out single for his 15th save in 18 chances. That makes six consecutive scoreless appearances, but McClendon isn’t yet ready to hand back the closer’s role.
“I didn’t anoint Carson as the closer,” McClendon said, “and I’m not saying Rodney is going back to being closer. I’m going to continue doing what we’re doing, put the guy in there I think gives us the best chance to win.”
The victory lifted the Mariners (34-40) out of last place in the American League West, one game ahead of Oakland. They are eight games behind first-place Houston.
The Mariners broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning after Austin Jackson beat out an infield single to deep short. Jackson was thrown out by Aybar on a similar play with two outs in the third with a runner on third.
Cano then took a strike on a 2-2 pitch that the computer pitch tracker suggested wasn’t close to a strike — that would be a factor later — but Nelson Cruz followed with a liner past first base for an RBI double.
Shoemaker (4-6) then walked Kyle Seager but escaped further damage by getting Mark Trumbo to ground into a double play.
Walker quickly worked himself into a jam in the LA sixth. After Trout led off with a single, Walker hit Pujols in the forearm. The runners advanced to second and third on Aybar’s sacrifice.
The Mariners kept their infield back, effectively conceding the tying run in hopes of preventing a big inning, but Walker struck out David Freese on a high-and-away fastball.
“We wanted it up and in,” Zunino said. “(Walker) just pulled it a little bit. Sometimes you get away with it. Sometimes it hurts you. But he had great stuff tonight, and he commanded it really well.”
The Mariners go their final run when Cano led off the eighth with a 434-foot homer on Salas’ first pitch.
“That at-bat before,” Cano said, “(Umpire Clint Fagan) called (strikes on) me, one low and one high. I’m not going to be arguing with the umpire. So when I get up again, in that situation again, I’m going to swing.
“Thank God, I got a good swing there.”
And to all a good night.