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August 17, 2012 at 11:04 PM

Mariners ride second-half pitching to improved record at home and overall

This starting pitching the Mariners continue to receive has really helped them improve their overall record and especially their home mark. Don’t look now, but after winning 10 of their last 11 home games, the Mariners are now just two games under .500 at big, bad Safeco Field.
Overall, the Mariners are 20-13 (.606) since the All-Star Break and are now quietly creeping up to just eight games below .500. Is a .500 season possible? Sure, if they keep getting pitching like this. The September schedule should be a bit tougher than what the M’s will see the rest of this homestand, with the Cleveland Indians in next after the Minnesota Twins, but the M’s did just dispatch a Tampa Bay squad that has destroyed the Angels two straight nights, so who’s to say?
Tonight, it wasn’t as tough a game. The Mariners won this one pretty easily, 5-3, over the Minnesota Twins.
Hisashi Iwakuma had just one tough inning out of seven, but notched two strikeouts to end the fifth after the Twins loaded the bases in a 3-1 game.
“Because of my experience, I was able to calm down and just concentrate on striking out the hitters,” Iwakuma said, through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba.
Iwakuma admitted he used Felix Hernandez’s perfect game as inspiration early. But he said he wasn’t really thinking about duplicating the feat once he’d retired 12 in a row.
“I tried to finish off the first hitter every inning to have a good game,” Iwakuma said. “And I did it the first four innings.”
Iwakuma had help from Trayvon Robinson, who made that diving catch of a ball driven down the left field line in the fourth. If Robinson misses the ball, it could be a triple. The fact he left his feet at all, rather than simply keeping the ball in front of him, showed he had Hernandez’s game and Iwakuma’s perfect start on his mind.
Having a 3-0 lead early also didn’t hurt in the taking chances department.
“I said ‘Hey, why not take a shot at it, take a chance?’ ” Robinson said. “Luckily, I stayed low enough to make a good judgment and just went after it.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge was very impressed by the poise Iwakuma showed in that fifth inning in not letting things get away from him. It’s strange how, in just a few batters, the Twins suddenly seemed poised to take over a game that appeared over after early homers by John Jaso and Miguel Olivo.
But that was a dangerous situatuon in the fifth. And Iwakuma was up to the task.
“That’s where you see his experience come into play,” Wedge said. “You can tell this guy pitched for quite a while over in Japan. He doesn’t get rattled in those situations, he really settles down, works to execute pitches. He doesn’t get caught up in the situation and just basically works at what he can control, which is to execute pitches.
“If you do that,” he added, “more times than not when you throw the ball where you want to, things will work out for you.”
I caught up with Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis after the game. He told me that, naturally, he’d never seen a run like the pitchers had been on in retiring 42 batters in a row. You have to go back to at least 1974 and possibly further to find a streak like that (we’ll know more tomorrow as folks keep checking).
“You know the old cliché of how hitting is contagious, well I think pitching is that way, too,” Willis said. “I think a big part of it is, these guys really like each other and they’re not out there trying to one-up anybody. One guy goes out and does his job and the next one wants to keep it going.”
Willis actually had a recent chat with his entire staff about pacing themselves in August by “saving some bullets” in their between-starts work so they can get through the season. A lot of these pitchers are youngers and we’ve seen in the past how inexperienced arms can hit the proverbial wall during the Dog Days of August.
I told him I gathered that didn’t include trying to throw perfect games every night.
“No,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t mean go throw perfect games all the time. But it’s been great to see.”
Yes, it has been. Let’s see whether the Mariners can keep it up.

Comments | Topics: Hisashi Iwakuma


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