I’ve been in Seattle quite a few years now and I’ve also covered plenty of playoff games at Yankee Stadium over the years, including the two fabled ALCS against Boston in 2003 and 2004 and numerous World Series here and at other places between 1998 and 2005.
And I’ve got to say, watching this game in this park tonight, it felt like a playoff game. I’m not the only one who thought so, either. I asked Brendan Ryan about it post-game.
“Absolutely, that’s what I was going to say,” Ryan told me, when he heard the word “playoff” mentioned. “I mean, every guy was in it. On the bench and on the field. That was playoff stuff right there. Everybody was ready to make a defensive play and our bullpen was coming in and executing pitches. That’s as fun as it gets there at the end with Tommy (Wilhelmsen) on the mound. I looked at Ack (Dustin Ackley) and I was like ‘This is awesome, this is truly awesome! This is good baseball here’.”
What gave the game its playoff feel was the way every pitch seemed to matter from about the fifth inning on. And every play, too, like Kendrys Morales diving to snag a Ryan throw in the seventh inning on an infield hit that scored one run. The tying run would have scored on the play as well had the ball gotten by Morales. But it didn’t and Carter Capps got the final out of that frame.
The Mariners would never yield again and the score stayed 3-2 until the final out was recorded.
“I don’t know if you get a Web Gem on something like that but that was the difference in the game,” Ryan said. “I don’t think I could bear hug him strong enough, It’s hard to get my arms around him but I mean, that was one heck of a play.”
The pitching down the stretch, in high-leverage, high-stress moments was just remarkable.
You had Oliver Perez getting out of that jam in the fifth with runners at the corners and one out. Perez struck out three more guys and was credited with the win.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job,’’ Perez said of the bullpen. “We’re like a family right there. We support each other, we have fun. It’s a long season and we treat everybody like family because sometimes we spend more time together than we do with our families.’’
Yoervis Medina got the final out with two on in the sixth, then Capps did a great job in the seventh and eighth with the tying run at second each time. With Curtis Granderson on second and one out in the eighth, Capps got David Adams to pop out and then struck out Ichiro on an 85 mph slider one pitch after showing him a 98 mph fastball.
That type of pitch alternating is what Capps worked on all winter and spring. You now see how effective it can be in throwing hitters off balance.
In the ninth, Tom Wilhelmsen admitted he was so amped-up, he wasn’t even paying attention to Brett Gardner as he stole second and then third. No matter, as he struck out Jayson Nix and then got Robinson Cano to ground out to end it.
“There was no way we were going to lose that game,’’ Wilhelmsen said. “We’d just got momentum and I certainly wasn’t going to be the guy to do it. Emotions were high and no matter what side you’re on, that’s a baseball game.’’
Mariners manager Eric Wedge, ejected for arguing that Ichiro catch in the second inning, managed the rest of the game from his office. He had a team employee racing back and forth between him and bench coach Roby Thompson relaying instructions.
Wedge later told me it was tougher for him to watch the game on TV than to be in the dugout, because the stress of the late innings was indeed playoff-like. He feels this was an important win by his squad.
“They should derive a great deal of confidence,’’ Wedge said. “When you’re facing these guys here in their backyard and you play to win the way we did and finished it off and do what you need to do, it should be a great lift for them.’’
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