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April 25, 2009 at 12:32 AM

Mariners a relieved bunch after hitting eruption

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A look at the Mariners, celebrating as they come off the field after an 8-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
The M’s pounded out 17 hits tonight after going through an offensive drought all week. Russell Branyan obviously helped out in that department, hitting a home run his first time up and later driving a double down the right field line. Branyan also scored on that wild pitch, but told us afterwards he was fine. Running was the hardest part of coming back from his back stiffness. The swinging part he got down pat a few days ago.
“I had some jitters tonight,” he admitted. “I was laid off a week. To come back out tonight and have a chance to hit with some guys on base, it was just nice to get out there and see us put some hits on the board…good to see everyone swinging the bat well and getting their knocks.”
That home run he hit was the opposite way to left center.
“The thing I was focused on was just getting started,” he said. “Making sure my timing was on and I wasn’t late and behind the ball. When I’m a little bit late, that’s when I get rushed and I put a little more strain or stress on my back.”
Branyan said his back stiffness likely hasn’t completely vanished, but should improve as the days go by.
“I think it’ll be something that I think I’m past,” he said, “but it’ll be sore for the next couple of days, then it’ll slowly leave. But right now, I think I’m out of the woods.”
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu raved afterwards about the latest effort by a starting pitcher, this one a solid 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball allowed by Erik Bedard.
“He was outstanding again,” Wakamatsu said. “A third quality start in a row. The thing that impressed me most about him was probably his mound presence and such a high quality strike ratio with that curveball. He seemed like he could throw it at any time. He pitched aggresssive, he pitched aggressive in. It was outstanding. His stuff was off the chart.”
Wakamatsu was also impressed with the quick way Shawn Kelley dispatched the Angels for the final seven outs of the game.
Yuniesky Betancourt had a big game in the field, making two strong throws from shortstop after ranging to his left for the ball. Jose Lopez had some blooped balls drop in for hits that will get his average up a bit.
Everyone keeps asking the M’s the question, but so far, to their credit, they haven’t been biting. But it’s the lingering question everyone knows is there.
Can the M’s use this series to help bury the Angels before they get off the ground?
Let’s face it: the M’s go up against a pitcher making his major league debut today, then have red hot Jarrod Washburn pitching the finale. It’s not unrealistic to think the M’s could sweep this series, even with Jered Weaver pitching on Sunday. And if that were to happen…well, 6 1/2 games is a hefty margin to overcome, even in April. Not saying it would be over at that point because it wouldn’t be. But then again, you have to remember, the Angels are a month away from getting any serious reinforcements on the pitching and hitting front.
While a 6 1/2 game deficit is not insurmountable, it would not take long for that to hit double-digits the way these Angels are playing right now. And by that, I mean poorly. It’s why the M’s keep getting asked whether this is their chance to pounce. Simply because it is. Frankly, the Oakland A’s are not looking as good as advertised and if the Texas Rangers are all that’s left as the main competition — well then, these M’s just could be contenders all year long.
But first things first. Let’s see what they do later tonight against a sagging Angels team throwing a rookie starter into the fire. Let’s see if the M’s take that next step and actually clinch a series win tonight without leaving it up to fate and their efforts against Weaver on Sunday.
These are still April games, yes. But they have added importance this year because of the context. The division favorite has been decimated by injury, tragedy, and looks to be going through a turmoil it might not recover from in time. Every bit the M’s can widen this gap, the longer they can take a shot at holding on and maybe actually winning this thing.
As I said, the Angels are not about to miraculously get better for at least another month. This is a unique situation unfolding and one the first-place M’s, now 11-6, can take serious advantage of these next two days.

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