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April 3, 2007 at 11:03 PM

Mariners win, improve to 2-0

We learned a few things in watching Seattle get off to its first 2-0 start since 1996, beating the Oakland A’s once again at Safeco Field — this time, 8-4. The final few innings of this game turned into a slugfest with both bullpens failing to do justice to the work turned in by the starting pitchers.
Jarrod Washburn, as we mentioned, did not do enough to pick up the victory. He took a 4-2 lead through six innings, but turned his fate over the bullpen and saw the advantage vanish in the seventh. I kind of suspected this bullpen might be a crapshoot early on and nothing I saw tonight changed my mind.
But I’m happy to report — as I’m sure Mariners fans will agree — that another aspect of this team I’d expected to see is indeed showing itself early. That would be the balance in the team’s offensive attack.
It’s what led to four runs by Seattle off the A’s bullpen in the bottom of the seventh inning. A single by Jose Guillen was then followed by a two-run homer to left field by Yuniesky Betancourt, of all people! Then, a single by No. 9 hitter Jose Lopez, a triple by leadoff man Ichiro and a sacrifice fly by No. 2 guy Adrian Beltre. We already know that No. 5 guy Richie Sexson went deep. That’s balance for you. It wasn’t evident on Monday, when the Mariners managed just four hits all game and zero earned runs.
But it sure came through in this one. This team should and almost certainly will have a better offensive attack than it did last season. The balance should be there on nights when Sexson, or Beltre stumble. The bigger question will be whether the starters after Felix Hernandez are up to the task. Washburn was at times tonight, but he also got away with a few. By the time Milton Bradley homered off him in the sixth, he was done. A solid No. 2 starter, I’ve always believed, has to go seven innings more often than not. Washburn wasn’t even close to that on this night. He pitched well enough to keep his team in it and — this is big — well enough not to lose. But the Mariners will still need more out of him. His command deserted him too quickly at times, though, we should all remember, it’s just Game 2, and Hernandez was a tough act to follow for anyone.
“I’m not going to strike out 12 in a game, ever,” Washburn joked in the clubhouse moments ago, referring to the cool dozen fanned by Hernandez on opening day. “Maybe if you give me three games and add them up.”
Folks were in a good mood after this one. And why not? The Mariners have already equalled their victory total — two — achieved against Oakland over 19 games last season. There are worse things still ahead for these guys, trust me. They aren’t going to go undefeated. So, let’s all calm down and just enjoy what we’ve seen the first two days: a dominant pitching performance by the staff ace and an improved offense that just pulled out a game it might have lost a year ago.
We’re all still waiting for Jose Vidro to get untracked, let’s not forget. And Raul Ibanez has yet to get going the way he can as well. All in all, Mariners fans could not have asked for more.
“Everybody on our offense did their jobs tonight,” Mariners manager Mike Hargrove told us afterwards. “Whether it was moving runners over, or driving in a two-out run as Ichiro did, or a sac-fly as Adrian Beltre did, a lot of the things we worked on in spring training, these guys put into effect tonight.”
Brandon Morrow seemed in decent spirits after his nerve-racking debut, in which he put Nick Swisher on with a four-pitch walk in the ninth, then yielded a single to Bobby Kielty. That prompted a visit from pitching coach Rafael Chaves, who reminded Morrow of what got him here in the first place.
“I need to trust my stuff,” Morrow said. “That’s what Chavey told me when he came out.”
Betancourt thought he’d hit a homer in Monday’s game, only to have that third inning blast drop into left fielder Shannon Stewart’s glove. The roof was open for that at-bat, but not for his seventh-inning battle with A’s reliever Kiko Calero in this one. Betancourt made sure there was little doubt as the 2-0 offering left his bat and cleared the fence in left.
Betancourt told me before Tuesday’s game that he’s flying to Miami after Wednesday night’s contest so he can be there for the smuggling trial of agent Gustavo “Gus” Dominguez. Betancourt has been called upon to testify in the case, with Dominguez facing up to 45 years in prison on 53 counts of attempting to smuggle Cuban ballplayers — including Betancourt — into the United States. Betancourt is due to rejoin the team in Cleveland at some point on Friday but isn’t sure he’ll be there in time for the 4:05 p.m. start time against the Indians.
Hargrove told me he’ll play Betancourt if he makes it in before the game. If not, it’ll be Willie Bloomquist at shortstop.
So, that about wraps it up. Remember folks, this is not a terrible team. It’s not a 100-win team either, but it should be able to win as many as it loses. With some breaks here or there, a whole lot of them, who knows? All I know is, as of right now, the Mariners are in first place. And I can’t get on them for that.



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