Tonight was all Jason Vargas. No, he didn’t collect the eventual winning hit in the seventh inning of this 4-3 victory. That was all Casper Wells.
But Vargas went out and threw seven strong innings with a career-high 121 pitches tonight. With temperatures at 102 degrees to start the game, that was no easy feat.
And believe me, the way things have gone on this trip, M’s manager Eric Wedge wanted no part of his bullpen trying to protect a one-run lead for three innings.
So, with Vargas at 97 pitches through six, Wedge stuck with his best option in the seventh.
And Vargas gutted through it.
“I’ve pitched in Florida, so this heat isn’t anything new as far as how to prepare in it,” Vargas said. “When we first got here, I started trying to get my body hydrated. I just tried to stay consistent with drinking water and Gatorade for the past three days.
“So, when it came to today, I wasn’t trying to drink a whole bunch of water to make up for it. It’s just something that I guess I had an advantage on learning a little prior in my career.”
I’ve been on Vargas a bit after his first three poor starts of the second half. You’ll remember how poorly his second half went at times last season.
But he rallied strong in Anaheim and now, against these Rangers, showed a lot.
The Mariners can thank Rangers manager Ron Washington for bunting in the ninth and giving up an easy out to Brandon League. Yorvit Torrealba had just singled to lead things off and pinch-runner Endy Chavez came out to replace him.
At that point, you’ve got to be worried about a Chavez stolen base and maybe a game-winning homer by Mitch Moreland.
Instead, Moreland bunted Chavez to second base, sacrificing a huge out in the process.
League then got David Murphy on a soft liner to center and Ian Kinsler grounded out to end it. Props to League and to Washington there for making the closer’s life easier.
Back to Vargas. Things could have gone downhill after he yielded those home runs to Josh Hamilton in the fourth and Ian Kinsler in the fifth to erase Seattle’s 3-0 lead.
But Vargas breezed through the sixth, giving his team time to get the go-ahead run in the seventh.
“I didn’t feel stressed out there,” Vargas said. “When I got runners on, I wasn’t panicking. That’s always a good sign, when your emotions are under control and you’re still able to make pitches.”
And that’s a big reason why Wedge sent Vargas back out there. As we’ve said, the odds of this bullpen holding the Rangers scoreless for three innings weren’t very good. Wedge and the coaches didn’t even bother asking Vargas if he was tired from the 97 pitches through six innings in the heat.
They simply sent him back out there.
“Obviously we pushed him but we pushed him for a good reason,” Wedge said. “He was throwing the ball well. I felt like he was in control of the ballgame. I know he threw a lot of pitches in those seven innings, but he was effective and against that lineup you can never let your guard down.
“He really bowed his neck and got it done.”
A real gut-check.
Vargas also, as I’ve mentioned, has a really dry sense of humor and can deadpan with the best of them. A reporter from Texas asked him whether he knew in the seventh that his pitch count was getting up as high as it was and Vargas gave an answer you can hear by clicking the link.
You just had to be there, I guess. Vargas later apologized and insisted he wasn’t trying to be sarcastic. I believe him. He’s just so naturally funny and quick sometimes that he cracks people up. Not exactly a Night at the Improv, but like I said, you had to be there.
Mike Carp had another big game hitting-wise, while Franklin Gutierrez came through with two more hits as well. This was a huge road trip for Gutierrez as far as putting things back together goes. He’s not out of the woods yet, but the guy we saw on this trip looked more like his old self.
Wedge doesn’t think the physical thing has anything to do with it. Says it’s more a case of Gutierrez not getting caught “in-between” being too hesitant and too aggressive.
Gutierrez sure doesn’t look like he has any physical problems on the defensive side. And now, his offensive game is finally showing signs of life.