When the Mariners have faced quality opponents of late, the results have been largely the same. Either Felix Hernandez is pitching and they’ll win with his stuffing the opposition all night — like they did in New York a week ago — or the game turns into some adventure and usually a loss.
What we haven’t seen against teams that aren’t on their way downward, like the 49-64 Royals or the 53-60 Blue Jays, are nights like this where the Mariners dominate from start to finish. Forget the final score of 7-4. This game wasn’t nearly as close, which explains why the home crowd was getting antsy and taking to some boos in the middle innings of a contest that was pretty much over for them from the get-go.
Hisashi Iwakuma was given a huge early lead and was pitching so well that he didn’t really need all the run support.
If Mike Trout doesn’t steal that Miguel Olivo homer in the eighth, it’s a 9-3 game heading into the final inning. So, yes, this was a deserved, all-around team win by the Mariners tonight and they did it with somebody other than Hernandez on the mound, on the road against a legit playoff contender.
“I thin when you talk about what we were talking about last night and all areas of your club getting it done, I think that’s what you saw today,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We did a better job of scoring in multiple innings, getting some big hits and some big two out RBI. (Dustin) Ackley swung the bat well today, (Miguel) Olivo swung the bat well today. (John) Jaso again. (Brendan) Ryan had a big sacrifice fly. We did a better job defensively. Obviously, (Hisashi) Iwakuma gave us a quality start and (Stephen) Pryor and (Tom) Wilhelmsen came in and did what they’re supposed to do.
“When you play like that, you can beat anybody,” Wedge added. “Our guys did a much better job overall. It was good to see.”
Pretty tough to say it any better.
Trayvon Robinson reached base three times, scored twice and sort of typified the kind of relentless attack the M’s subjected Angels starter Dan Haren to.
“We didn’t let up,” Robinson said. “Whenever we get a chance, an opportunity, you’ve got to take it.”
Robinson did that in the three-run fourth inning. Olivo had opened with an infield single, took second on a throwing error, then third on a wild pitch.
After Robinson walked to put runners at the corners, he promptly stole second.
“You want to keep the double play out of order,” Robinson said. “There’s more of a chance then that Brendan Ryan to get a pitch up and we can cash in on it.”
And that’s what Ryan did. Haren was no longer throwing as many splitters and sinkers in an attempt at a double-play. He got a pitch up and Ryan hit a sacrifice fly to make it a 5-0 game.
Robinson moved up to third, then scored when Albert Pujols flubbed a grounder.
And that’s how the night went.
“It’s a big thing to see them score like that,” Iwakuma said, through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba. “It really helped me pitch a good game.”
So did some mechanical tweaks Iwakuma made after his start in New York last weekend. He was keeping the ball down this time, getting multiple ground ball outs in a start he says typified the pitcher he once was in Japan.
“This is my style of pitching,” Iwakuma said. “To get a lot of ground balls and keep the ball low and get strikes.”
And this was the type of game the Mariners have to get better at playing if this rebuiding plan is ever going to go anyplace. They have to have more wins where they aren’t eeking out victories in the bottom of the ninth, or sweating through every Hernandez outing or Wilhelmsen ninth.
The Mariners had some of those earlier this season in Detroit, and at Texas. But lately, even the wins against some bad teams have been nail-biter types, or merely contests where the opposing starter was downright terrible to begin with.
Haren is a bonafide big leaguer with some serious credentials. He’s having an off-year, but you still have to make him work to beat him. The Mariners did that, they struck out only twice all night and they were hammering balls — even some that wound up as outs.
All teams need nights where they aren’t playing every inning like it’s life-and-death.
So, we’ll see whether the M’s can make this more of a habit. It would be nice if they didn’t go two or three weeks before it happens again.
Speaking of Wilhelmsen, he admitted to having a little trouble focusing in the ninth given all he’s been through the past 48 hours. He flew back to Seattle on Thursday, was there for the birth of his daughter yesterday, then arrived here at the ballpark about 5:30 p.m.
He told me he still had his daughter in the back of his mind a bit — right up until Kendrys Morales hit that homer off him in the ninth.
“Back to reality, there,” he said.
But when your team plays a complete, all-around game like that, your closer can afford the luxuries of a minor slip-up the day after his first child is born. See how that works? Good teams know how to have nights like these on a regular basis. Tonight, the M’s enjoyed one of their own and hope to see more.