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April 23, 2009 at 8:27 PM

Tampa Bay post-game

In a way, you could say it was decided on the second pitch, and yet not over untl the last.
Ichiro’s homer on the second pitch of the game was the only run of the game for either side — just the 22nd time in Major League history a leadoff homer stood up as the only run of the game and the secomd time in Mariner history (the other June 19, 1992 at Minnesota courtesy of Greg Briley).
Still, the game was obviously in doubt until the end, when Brandon Morrow (who has recovered nicely from the early implosion to record five straight saves) finally got Dioner Navarro to fly out after a nine-pitch battle.
You can find the nuts and bolts of the game here. In the final edition story you’ll see some quotes from Rays manager Joe Maddon who said he thinks they should have closed the roof today since the late-afternoon shadows made it hard for both teams to see the ball.
That there were only eight hits lends some credence to that, though this game also featured two of the better young pitchers in the game in Felix Hernandez and James Shields.
Maddon didn’t question Hernandez saying “he was down with everything. I knew he was going to be good.”
Ichiro said later he wasn’t looking to hit a home run, though one reporter noted that he had hit seven of eight pitches for HRs during one batting practice session. Told about that later and it that indicated he had home runs on the mind, Ichiro joked that he was impressed that the reporter was counting.
But he also acknowledged that he knew with the two pitchers on the mound and the late-afternoon sun that runs would be scarce. So that made it an especially timely home run in a season when the Mariners keep doing just enough things right.
This seemed like an especially pivotal early game with the M’s now headed out on a six-game road trip to the Angels and White Sox. In fact, the Mariners now play 14 or their next 19 on the road.
A loss today would have meant a losing opening homestand at 4-5, and losses in five of the last seven, a tough way to go back on the road. Instead, it’s now a winning homestand at 5-4, the final game coming with a makeshift lineup that didn’t portend an especally good vibe heading into it, and some momentum to carry tomorrow night to Anaheim.
“To win this series, that’s a big series for us,” said Morrow of the 2-1 series win over the Rays. “And we are just going to try to keep the momentum going. We’re playing good baseball and that’s what it comes down to.”
Obviously there are warning signs, especially with the offense.
This was already the second time this year Seattle has won a game with just four hits, something it did only twice the previous three years combined. That speaks partly to Seattle’s ability to pitch and play defense better than it has in recent years. But it’s also not something the M’s are going to win with consistently.
The Mariners are hitting just .241 and they have an on-base percentage of just .296. Adrian Beltre is now hitting just .164, Jose Lopez .196, Ken Griffey Jr. .171 and Franklin Gutierrez .191.
Maybe the warmer weather in Anaheim will heat up the bats a bit. For today, it was worth savoring a team that remains in first place and what was an especially unique way to win a game.



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