(Justin Smoak and Ichiro celebrate after tonight’s 4-3 Seattle win. Photo by Associated Press)
So let’s start with the standings. Three teams in the AL West lost tonight. The Mariners won, 4-3 over the Rangers, and picked up a game on the pack. That leaves the Mariners still in last place, but now just two games behind the division-leading Rangers and Angels, and one game behind the A’s.
I say that partly in jest, because the Mariners remain two games under .500 at 14-16 despite their hard-earned victory tonight. But it’s a measure of how far they’ve come in just barely over a week that we can talk about them being in the hunt for the division lead instead of talking about how disastrous the season is going.
This one was really an impressive win in a lot of ways. You had another great start by Erik Bedard, who struggled through a 33-pitch first inning and didn’t seem long for the game, but recovered after that to breeze through the seventh. In his last two starts, Bedard has worked seven innings in both (the first time he’s done that back-to-back since May 2 and May 5, 2008), and given up a combined seven hits and three runs. If Bedard is back in form, their rotation, topped by Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, is pretty formidable.
Here’s what Eric Wedge had to say about Bedard: “He really had to work in that first inning. For him to give us 7 strong innings, that says a lot just about how far he’s come. Just for the fact that it’s been a while since he’s been out there. We continue to see him take steps from start to start.
“I thought his changeup really played for him late in the game. He threw it against some right-handers and left-handers. And a live fastball.
“He really did a good job of commanding the baseball game.”
And here’s what Bedard had to say about Bedard:
“That first inning was a little rough. I was having a hard time controlling the strike zone. I was just trying to battle up there, trying to throw strikes and get people out. As the game progressed, the changeup got really good and the curveball did too.”
On the confidence he gained from his last start: “I always knew I could do it. I just had to be consistent with throwing strikes. All my pitches were working today and it got me some early-count outs and it got me deep in the game.
“Every start you have one inning diffult, and you try to get through. After that it’s just settling down and throwing strikes.”
Then there’s Brandon League, who spotted Texas a leadoff single in the ninth before racking up his eighth save in eight tries.
I was impressed with the way the Mariners kept battling back. They were down 1-0, and tied it 1-1 in the third. They were down 2-1, and tied it 2-2 in the seventh. And they were down 3-2 in the top of the eighth, and pulled it out with two in the bottom of the eighth.
“There’s a lot of energy in the dugout,” Wedge said. “They’re pulling for each other. They’ve competed from the first inning of the first game of the year. When you keep pushing, good things are going to happen.”
You have to keep being impressed by Justin Smoak, who struggled a bit in Boston but came back strong tonight with a single, an RBI double, and the game-tying single in the eighth.
And Jack Cust is finally starting to come around. He has hit in six games in a row and driven in the game-winner in two of the last three games.
“That was big for him and big for us,” Wedge said. “I felt like he really started getting it going in Boston, to see his BP, his takes during the game, his swings. Prior to that, he had a couple of hard outs. It’s great to see him step up for us.”
Said Cust: “It’s always gratifying. Anything to help the team. We’re winning. When you’re winning ballgames, everything’s better, no matter what your stats are or how you’re feeling personally. You just want to do something to help the team win, whether it’s get on base and score a run, or drive in a run. Being a DH, it’s a little more limited to offensive stuff. That’s when you start to pound on the pressure when you’re not swinging the bat well. It kinds of builds up, but it’s been feeling good of late and I’m just trying to ride it out.”
The Rangers, meanwhile, are scuffling without closer Neftali Feliz and American League MVP Josh Hamilton. Since their 9-1 start, they have lost 13 of 20.
They’re heading in the opposite direction of the suddenly red-hot Mariners, who have now won 12 of 19 since a seven-game losing streak.