One of these days, the Mariners might be able to sustain some offense. But they didn’t have to this series because the pitching was good enough to take two of three even with only seven runs scored in three games.
You can’t ignore the quality of teams the Mariners have taken down, either.
Since that watershed series began in Detroit back on April 26, the Mariners have swept the Tigers in their home park, split a four-game series with them, taken out the Red Sox at Fenway Park and beaten the Yankees and Phillies right here.
That’s not picking your spots. The Tigers were a first-place team two days ago. The Phillies have the best record in baseball and had won seven in a row coming in. The Yankees hold down the AL wild-card at present while the Red Sox lead the AL East.
In fact, the M’s also took a series from the Rays right here. So, they’ve beaten the three best teams in the AL East.
But this one right here was a huge test.
The Phillies won a World Series in 2008, nearly repeated in 2009 and were heavy favorites to win it all last year and again this season.
And Seattle just took the Phils down with limited offense in three straight nailbiter games.
“I think what they’re starting to show is that they can dig deep when they have to,” Mariner manager Eric Wedge said after today’s 2-0 win.
Wedge wasn’t kidding. There weren’t many balls hit squarely by either team, including the two blooped singles that decided the contest.
Justin Smoak had one in the sixth and Adam Kennedy in the seventh.
That was all Jason Vargas needed as he tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout.
“To get that first run across for Vargy was big,” Smoak said. “I knew it had a chance. He threw a cutter inside and it ran in on me. It’s just one of those things.”
Kennedy broke his bat in hitting his jammed shot to left.
“I wanted to get a swing early on,” Kennedy said. “So, I was able to get ahead in the count and let one loose. It’s always better when you’re pinch hitting to get a swing in and go from there. It’s just not easy with those guys. Sometimes, you get it done and sometimes you don’t.”
Kennedy had been 0-for-7 lifetime with two strikeouts against Phillies starter Cole Hamels when Wedge sent him up there as a pinch-hitter for Mike Carp. Wedge figured the veteran who’d seen Hamels probably had a better shot than the newcomer, Carp, who’d looked pretty weak against the lefty with a strikeout and groundout to first base.
It helped that Kennedy worked the count into his favor before getting a pitch he at least could get some wood on.
It wasn’t easy.
But the M’s made their own luck as well.
Things could have gone real bad in that first inning after Vargas looked to be through it 1-2-3. But a passed ball prolonged things and before you knew it, there were runners on second and third and a Ben Francisco bloop to left looked destined to bring home two runs.
But left fielder Greg Halman came through with the sliding, basket catch.
“You can’t let that ball drop in and let him come all the way around from second to score as well,” Halman said.
Halman said it helped knowing Franklin Gutierrez was right there to back him up if he left his feet and missed the ball.
“You’ve got the infielders coming and Guti coming there, but with Guti, I know he’s going to call me off if he could make the play,” Halman said. “I know how it is playing center field, so I just keep going until I hear Guti call me off. He didn’t do it this time.”
You know what I like about this team? Compared to, say, the 2009 squad that hung in there until late July before Cleveland took them out of contention for good with a series rout right here at Safeco Field?
The pitching on this squad is better. I mean, you have Vargas doing what he did today and Doug Fister becoming a seven-inning guy you might depend on to keep going seven or more the rest of the season.
But those are two guys that most people consider this team’s fourth and fifth starters. You get that time of pitching and a lights-out bullpen as well, that’s playoff stuff if it carries through all season.
I also like how this team’s young guys are contributing alongside the veterans.
You have Dustin Ackley with a triple today, a homer last night and a single two nights earlier. Smoak coming through on Friday and again today. Halman doing what he can to help. Carlos Peguero once in a while. Brendan Ryan, last I checked, is still a pretty young guy.
And you have Kennedy, Miguel Olivo and now — finally — Ichiro doing it as well.
Ichiro as a .189 hitter for six weeks was not something this team needed or wanted to see. The M’s had to get him going again and now, with yet another two hits today, he appears to have finally regained that missing stroke.
But the combination of young and old is a real positive step forward. We’ll see where the m’s can take it from here.