The Mariners never had a chance to breath easily in this one, a 2-0 victory in which they escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, then watched the tying run come to the plate in the ninth after Tom Wilhelmsen walked Jed Lowrie with two outs. But Brandon Moss flew out, and their seventh straight Opening Day victory was in the books.
I focused my column on Felix Hernandez, who was brilliant in recording his 99th career victory. When someone asked him his thoughts about getting No. 100, he quickly interjected, “Shh, shh, shhh, don’t say it.” Then he lowered his voice to a whisper and repeated, “Don’t say it.”
Hernandez had another funny line after his former battery mate, John Jaso, reached him for a double with one out in the fourth after he had retired the first 10 Oakland batters. Earlier in the day, before the game, Hernandez had sent over a wrapped box containing a Rolex watch, a gift of appreciation for Jaso catching his perfect game last year. Hernandez joked that he was tempted to yell out to Jaso when he was standing on second base, “Dude, what time is it?”
Here’s a picture of Jaso showing off the watch:
Hernandez and Jaso had an epic 10-pitch battle in the sixth that ended with Hernandez striking him out on a 3-2 changeup to end the inning with a runner on first. When the count became full, catcher Jesus Montero — who took a physical beating behind the plate but played a solid defensive game — trotted out to the mound. He asked Hernandez what he wanted to throw, and Hernandez tossed the question back at Montero.
“Dude, best pitch,’’ Montero replied. “Come on, changeup. Let’s do it.”
For all the hype about the Mariners’ new offensive pop, they managed just five hits, all singles, with two never leaving the infield. They also struck out 11 times (three by Kyle Seager, two by Michael Saunders). But they also got the clutch hit that was needed to win the game, Franklin Gutierrez’s two-run single in the fifth off tough lefty Brett Anderson. Hernandez recognizes what having a healthy Gutierrez could mean for the Mariners this year.
“With Guti out there, the lineup is way better,” he said.
The key to that inning was Dustin Ackley, after a leadoff walk, taking third on Brendan Ryan’s single to right. Ackley barely beat the throw by Josh Reddick, a laser that was reminiscent of Ichiro’s reputation-making peg to nail Terrence Long in the very same ballpark as a rookie in 2001. But it wasn’t quite “something out of Star Wars,” as Dave Niehaus famously described Ichiro’s throw, because Ackley slid in time. The second key to the inning was Ryan alertly taking third on the throw, allowing him to score as well on Gutierrez’s hit up the middle.
Ryan had a great day all around. He made two good defensive plays, most notably ranging up the middle on a hard grounder by Yoenis Cespedes to nail him at first and end the fourth — stranding Jaso at third. And he was on base all three times with twowalks and a single, an encouraging start for a guy who hit .194 with a .277 on-base percentage last year. He even stole a base.
“He’s worked hard all spring,” manager Eric Wedge said of Ryan. “He takes a lot of pride in knowing he has to get better offensively.”
Tom Wilhelmsen worked the ninth for the save, but the biggest out of the game was gotten by Stephen Pryor, after Charlie Furbush, replacing Hernandez in the eighth, walked Coco Crisp to load the bases. A base hit right there probably would have tied the game and wiped out Hernandez’s gem, but Pryor came in to get pinch-hitter Derek Norris to ground into an inning-ending force out.