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It was a memorable comeback victory for the Mariners on Sunday for a myriad of reasons.
It marked the team’s 71st win of the season, equaling the total of from all of last season – a major milestone considering there are still 33 games left to be played.
It also meant the Seattle (71-58) maintained its one game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the race for the second wild card. The Tigers (70-59) also won, defeating the Twins 13-4.
But the 8-6 triumph over the Red Sox accomplished something that no other team had done in the existence of the Mariners’ franchise – complete a three-game sweep at Fenway Park.
The Mariners had a couple two-game series sweeps in Boston in the 63 series the teams have played, but they’d never come to historic Fenway and taken all three or four games of series. That’s 38 seasons. In that time, this was just sixth time they were in position to get the sweep.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all with the teams (Red Sox) run out every year,” said Dustin Ackley, who led the offense with three hits in the game. “But the team we’ve got this year is capable of sweeping teams We’ve got the pitching, hitting and bullpen now to do it.”
The Mariners had little business winning the finale. They squandered a 3-0 first-inning lead, thanks to the worst outing of Hisashi Iwakuma’s big league career. They ran themselves out of multiple scoring chances. Their best player – Robinson Cano – left the game because of dizziness in the bottom of the third inning.
“I just feel like I have the flu,” Cano said. “I got dizzy out there. I feel a little bit better now. Hopefully, I should be OK for tomorrow.”
Yet they still found a way to prevail, showing for the third straight game that deficits are there to be overcome and their bullpen is the best in baseball.
“This had to be the craziest series we’ve been in this year, just as far as back and forth, coming from behind, scoring a lot of runs, rallying,” Ackley said.
Manager Lloyd McClendon had another word to describe it – “draining”
“That’s probably the best word I could think of,” McClendon said. “It was very draining. It was a tough day in a lot of different ways. In the end, we got the win and that makes everything okay.”
Iwakuma just never looked comfortable against the Red Sox despite his teammates giving him a 3-0 lead before he’d even thrown a pitch.
Seattle scored three runs in the first off Sox starter Allen Webster on RBI singles from Kendrys Morales, Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison. Iwakuma gave the runs right back.
Brock Holt singled to start the first. But it looked as though Iwakuma might have an otherwise smooth inning, getting Dustin Pedroia to ground out and striking out David Ortiz.
That third out wasn’t quite as simple.
Yoenis Cespedes singled to left to score Holt. Iwakuma then hit Mike Napoli and Allen Craig with pitches – his first two of the season. Will Middlebrooks, who came into the game sporting an anemic .190 batting average, singled home two more runs to tie the game at 3-3.
“I couldn’t find a good rhythm on the mound,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I was able to throw some strikes but I wasn’t able to execute when I needed to and that kind of cost me today.”
The first-inning ordeal took 39 pitches for Iwakuma – a career-high. The previous high had been 28 pitches in an inning, which also came earlier this season against the Red Sox on June 25. In that game, he lasted just four innings and gave up five runs on eight hits – his shortest outing of the season.
Well, it was the shortest till Sunday.
After a benign eight-pitch second inning, Iwakuma never got out of the third. He walked Ortiz to start the trouble and gave up a double to Cespedes. A ground ball out from Napoli gave the Sox a 4-3 lead. Iwakuma then allowed back-to-back singles to Craig and Middlebrooks to let another run come across and make it 5-3.
McClendon had seen enough, lifting his starter after 67 pitches. It was Iwakuam’s shortest start of is career. The previous shortest was on July 9, 2010 when he lasted just three innings in game also against the Red Sox.
The struggles aren’t coincidence. Iwakuma has a 10.20 ERA in four starts against Boston.
“To be honest, I don’t know the key,” Iwakuma said. “If knew, I’d get these guys out.”
Dominic Leone (7-2) came in and cleaned up Iwakuma’s mess, getting the final two outs of the inning and throwing another scoreless inning. After Leone, relievers Joe Beimel, Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen combined to allow one run over the next three innings to maintain the lead.
Down 5-3, Seattle cut the lead to 5-4 on a sacrifice fly from Chris Denorfia in the fourth inning and took a 6-5 lead in the fifth on a RBI triple from Ackley and a sac fly from Brad Miller – Cano’s replacement.
The Mariners tacked on needed insurance runs in the eighth on a RBI single from Seager and in the ninth on a RBI double from Miller.
That extra run gave Fernando Rodney some wiggle room in the ninth because he provided the full “Fernando Rodney Experience,” giving up a single and walking to batters to load the bases with two outs before striking out Johnson for his 38th save.
“When I saw the situation, I tried to make good pitches,” Rodney said. “That’s all I could do. Try to get out of the jam.”