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April 1, 2011 at 11:39 PM

Best thing from Mariners tonight? Working the count

Can’t remember too many nights last season when the opposing starter threw 105 pitches the first 4 2/3 innings. That wound up being the key to tonight’s victory by the Mariners. They wound up reaching base 20 times total, aided by five errors from a brutal-looking Oakland infield.
Should have been six errors. That throw home by A’s shortstop Cliff Pennington, in which catcher Kurt Suzuki wound up with a sprained ankle, was about five feet too far to the catcher’s left. Miguel Olivo came sliding home with the run, right over the top of Suzuki’s outstreched leg.
After the game, a sore Suzuki lamented that Olivo used him “like a slip ‘n slide.”
That’s OK. Felix Hernandez used the rest of the A’s as his personal video game — with the controls set on beginner level. Hernandez made a minor adjustment after that first inning home run by Josh Willingham and gave up just one more single before the eighth inning began.
But the story of this one wasn’t how long Hernandez lasted in this 108-pitch effort, making him the first Seattle pitcher even to throw a nine-inning complete game on Opening Day.
No, the real story was Cahill, the “ace” of an Oakland team some thought might be playoff-bound this year, being bounced before the regulation five innings.

Sure, the M’s, as is their custom, didn’t so things the easy way. They struck out nine times and stranded eight runners the first five innings.
But in the end, they reached base 20 times. Yes, you read that right.
It’s very tough to lose when you do that. Especially with Hernandez on the mound.
True, some of the high-slugging teams would score 12 or 15 runs with that many runners. But these are still the Mariners. They have to work for everything. Take advantage of every mistake.
Still, this team has tried for years to work pitch counts the way we saw tonight.
Jack Cust seemed to take the count full in every at-bat. His third-inning walk, on a 3-2 pitch, was huge. It gave the M’s their only run scored off Cahill in the game and their lone RBI of a 29-pitch inning by Oakland’s starter.
But all those pitches added up.
“Wedgie was in the dugout telling us ‘We’re knocking on the door. Keep going, keep grinding,’ ” Cust said of Mariners manager Eric Wedge. “We got guys on base and we got Cahill’s pitch count up. Got him out of the game. We got into the bullpen…and we got to some of those guys as well.”
Chone Figgins was part of that big third inning rally, keeping things going with a two-out single. Then, in the sixth, he clubbed the decisive solo homer off reliever Craig Breslow to put the M’s ahead for good.
“I’ve been attacking the ball more,” Figgins said. “Like I said last year, I get better results when I’m attacking the game.”
Hernandez wore a smile that was ear-to-ear afterwards. The M’s only scored six runs or more for him on three occasions last year.
“It was awesome, man,” Hernandez said. “That was awesome. Like I’ve said, I think we’re going to score more runs than last year. Look at what happened. I think we’re going to be better.”
If they keep getting 20 base runners per game, they’ll automatically have to be better. That won’t continue and yeah, the M’s will have to start cashing guys in earlier.
But I liked the way they put the pressure on tonight. Maybe all the preaching about that from manager Eric Wedge is paying off. The Mariners took it to the A’s tonight and kept the pressure on. They’ll have to do a whole lot more of it as the season continues. But this was a good start.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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