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August 1, 2012 at 11:08 PM

Quick, somebody, break up the Mariners!

Don’t look now, but the Mariners are 14-6 since the All-Star Break, the second-best record in the majors behind Oakland’s 13-5. Gosh, how’d you like to be a Blue Jays team, pretty much knocked out of the wild-card race already and having to travel to Oakland after this and then to Tampa Bay.
Oh well, not Seattle’s problem. The Mariners dispatched the Blue Jays 5-3 tonight and it had to do with some work by a newcomer as well as changes by the same old hitters who’ve been here all year.
Eric Thames had the momentum-shifting blast, of course, tying the game up 3-3 just when it looked like Carlos Villanueva and the Blue Jays were about to run away and hide. The homer by Thames was a monster blow straight over the wall in center. In other words, right up and over what’s been Death Valley for M’s bats at home.
“I went into the homerless territory, as everyone says,” Thames said.
Thames and Villanueva teamed together in Class AAA for the better part of the past two seasons.
“It’s different when you’re playing behind somebody and then facing him,” Thames said. “Because I knew his off-speed is plus-plus and that he likes to locate. Guys like that are tough in general, so I looked at video, I talked to (Michael) Saunders and some of the other guys and we collaborated on approaches.”
And really, while the Thames homer shifted the game’s tide, it was ultimately the approaches the Mariners took — and their ability to make in-game adjustments — that ultimately sealed this seventh win in a row. It was just a few weeks ago in Oakland, pre-break, that Mariners manager Eric Wedge openly questioned the intelligence of some of his hitters for continuing to get fooled over and over again. He even used the word “dumb” at one point while considering options for why his hitters seemed so unable to do a basic thing like adjust.
Different story tonight. Villanueva came in 6-0 with a 2.92 ERA and retired the first nine batters he faced, throwing plenty of off-speed pitches early in counts. No fastballs for anybody to sit on and drill.
And the M’s began to adjust to that, tempering some of their aggression.
“I think it was important for us to see him the first time through,” Wedge said of those three first innings. “Because he has good stuff. A little bit of deception. His fastball’s solid, but he has a real good changeup and a real good breaking ball. And you could see why he’s had some success. I think it just helped us to see him the first time through.”
And to change some things up at the plate. Wedge agreed that part was nice to see.
“That is, that is,” Wedge said. “The ability to make an adjustment, people think about it from game-to-game, but really it needs to be at-bat-to-at-bat. And eventually from pitch-to-pitch as these guys get further along. And they’re all moving, for the most part, in the right direction.”

While the Thames blast gave the dugout an emotional lift, it was the hitting by others later on that helped put things away. Saunders hit a one-out double off the wall in the sixth with the score tied.
John Jaso came up next, having struck out his first two at-bats. He singled to center to put Seattle ahead to stay.
“We kind of knew that coming into the game that he was going to come with a lot of off-speed stuff,” Jaso said of Villanueva. “His fastball was kind of like his fourth pitch.”
Jaso also said the adjustments came easier for the hitters once some early-game sun shadows cleared off the field. Gosh, we haven’t had those very often here, have we? That’s kind of funny.
In any event, Jaso also credited the team’s pitching for sustaining this run.
The Mariners in July saw starting pitchers set a monthly club record with a 2.73 ERA, topping the 2.90 by the St. Louis Cardinals for best in the majors last month. The next closest AL team was the Rays at 3.56.
Blake Beavan was a big part of that and has now gone 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA since returning from Class AAA. Say what you want about his limitations, but he’s made a concerted effort to up his game from what it was before.
And Beavan feels the same wqay about his hitters.
“So many people talk about how we don’t score runs at home and we’re not getting the job done at home,” said Beavan, who lasted 7 2/3 innings. “But I think we’ve kind of turned that around here and kind of taken it upon ourselves to pick it up and do better. To take more accountability and go out there and play like there’s no tomorrow.”
They’ll have to win just about every tomorrow to get back into a playoff race and realistically, that’s not going to happen. Let’s face it, Toronto appears dead in the playoff water right now and is still in a much better position than Seattle, so let’s not all go crazy at once here.
But the M’s can still salvage plenty from this season, starting with a little self respect. It helps that they started to get over the Safeco Field hump this past week and maybe the warmer weather does help and a little off-season tinkering with the fences will pay some dividends self-confidence-wise when the cool weather is here next April through June.
Now, the M’s head off on a tough road trip. Their run differential is a +3 on the season right now and I’m sure the M’s would be thrilled if it’s in positive territory when they return home again. Some tough opponents upcoming, but they faced a good pitcher here tonight and just swept a .500 team in front of some largely hostile crowds filled with Toronto fans the past three nights.
The best the M’s and their fans can hope for is for them to play their best. They didn’t always play that way, even early in this homestand. But they sure finished strong. Let’s see whether they can keep it up.



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