Once again, this was the type of game the Mariners might have lost not too long ago. They had just three hits by the start of the eighth inning in a tie game and, well, you know the rest. The Cleveland Indians right now are what the Mariners were two years ago: a squad that can make a game of it at times, but has no clue how to finish things off.
The Mariners did that today in a 3-1 win and it began with Kyle Seager busting out of the batter’s box on that one-out double in the eighth. It looked like a single as the ball hopped past the second baseman’s glove. But not to Seager.
“In the eighth inning right there, you’ve got to take a chance,” Seager said. “I was running pretty hard out of the box, so if I was going to shut it down I was going to shut it down late. I was going hard out of the box.”
And that made all the difference. The Indians had to walk John Jaso to put two on. Then, with two out, Eric Thames came to the plate having been 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against the two-seam fastballs of starter Zach McAllister.
Thing is, McAllister was done for the day and Vinnie Pestano was on the mound. Thames had faced Pestano before and knew he’d tried to get him with some four-seam fastballs in those prior encounters.
So, he was ready.
“I know how he’s attacked me in the past with a four-seamer,” he said. “I just wanted to get my head out on the fastball and didn’t miss it. Up here, you can’t miss the heaters.”
And he didn’t, sending a screamer down the line for a two-run double that decided the game.
The Mariners made the defensive plays when they had to in this game as well.
Hisashi Iwakuma benefitted from three double-plays the first four innings to stay out of trouble.
“When I needed to get a double play, I was able to throw whatever I wanted and get a ground ball,” Iwakuma said, through intepreter Daisuke Sekiba. “I had good location and control and so, I had success getting ground balls.”
That’s consecutive starts for Iwakuma without allowing a home run — something he’d done in 10 prior outings.
I asked Iwakuma about whether the Mariners have approached him to talk about next season yet, since he’s a free agent. Iwakuma told me they had not — which isn’t surprising, given that it’s only August and they still have to see whether he can sustain this.
“I want to play for the Mariners if I have a chance,” he said. “I feel very comfortable.”
We’ll see whether he still feels that way after he and his agent view the free agent landscape this winter. But that’s an encouraging sign, since folks weren’t all that certain about his comfort level here after he’d spent much of the first half in long relief duty.
But Iwakuma told me that he’s finally adjusted to a routine as an MLB starter (which is quite different from what goes on in Japan) and that all of his pitches are now working the way he needs them to on a consistent basis.
Dustin Ackley made that terrific, racing grab of a Lou Marson pop-up fairly deep in right center to start the seventh inning. That was a key play because Marson could have had himself a double had the ball dropped in there in a 1-1 game.
“I knew it was going to be well over my head and I just turned around and started running,” Ackley said. “When I picked the ball back up, it was kind of tailing a little bit to my right. At the last second, I kind of threw the glove up there and fortunately, it went in there.”
The Mariners made plays like that throughout this 8-1 homsetand. They have won 11 in a row against AL Central teams — going 21-7 against that division after a 1-5 start — and now hit the road for seven more games in Chicago and Minneapolis.
That Chicago stretch could be tough, especially without Felix Hernandez. But the M’s will have to take care of business if they want to have any hope of somehow sneaking into the wild-card race come early September. They aren’t there yet, as 7 1/2 games back to start the day is a little too distant with four teams to catch.
Only way to make up ground, for now, is to keep on winning — and possibly sweeping teams like the Twins, which the M’s already did this past weekend.
The only way they’ll do that is to keep making the little plays that make a big difference.
“It all adds up,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys out there that are each doing what they need to do to help us win ballgames. All the little things add up.”