By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Many in the crowd booed and a few even flung dollar bills from the upper deck when Alex Rodriguez batted Thursday night at Safeco Field.
Ah, hard feelings are still in the air after all these years, and Rodriguez gave those folks chances to cheer — or jeer — with fly balls each of his first three at-bats.
But when it was time to be a money player, Rodriguez came through for the New York Yankees in a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
He drew a leadoff walk and scored in the eighth inning to tie the score, then delivered a two-out, two run single in the ninth off Mariners closer David Aardsma to win it for the Yankees.
In suffering their 26th loss this season by two runs or less, the Mariners again couldn’t get clutch hits when they had opportunities, especially in the sixth inning when they scored their only run off Yankees veteran Andy Pettitte but left the bases loaded.
“It goes back to offense again,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Sixth inning, you have to capitalize in that situation. We have to be able to score some runs to take the pressure off this bullpen.”
When they didn’t, the Mariners lost their fourth straight game and their sixth of the past seven.
Aardsma was the victim of record, dropping to 0-6 after allowing two hits and two walks in the ninth, but starting pitcher Jason Vargas suffered as well.
Vargas pitched his 13th quality start this season (at least six innings with no more than three earned runs) but was left with his seventh no-decision.
As the Mariners have said too often in this season of pitching excellence and offensive impotence, Vargas gave the Mariners a chance to win. He didn’t quite match Pettitte pitch for pitch, given he’d thrown 78 through five innings to Pettitte’s 58, but he did the most important thing by holding the Yankees scoreless through seven innings.
Problem was, Pettitte didn’t give the Mariners’ offense much to work with. They left seven runners on base and went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
The Mariners scored in the sixth when Josh Wilson and Michael Saunders hit back-to-back singles and Ichiro Suzuki squared for a sacrifice bunt that led to a run. Pettitte fielded it and threw wildly to first base, allowing Wilson to score for a 1-0 lead while Suzuki and Saunders reached second and third with nobody out.
Chone Figgins grounded out and Pettitte intentionally walked Franklin Gutierrez before making his biggest pitches of the game. He struck out Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez to end the inning.
Pettitte had runners on base in each of the next two innings with less than two outs but got out of those.
Vargas, meanwhile, pitched with runners on base in every inning but escaped all but the eighth, when he walked Rodriguez on four pitches to start the inning and Robinson Cano followed with a single to right field.
Wakamatsu pulled Vargas, who’d thrown 106 pitches, and brought in right-hander Brian Sweeney.
“You think about who he was opposing, he pitched as well if not better considering the circumstances,” Wakamatsu said of Vargas.
Vargas, who is being watched carefully because he’s approaching a career high in innings (he’s at 1072/3), said he felt strong to the end.
“I felt as good in the eighth inning as I did in the first,” he said. “That’s why I was so frustrated when I walked Alex. If I keep him off base, I probably stay out there a little longer.”
Instead, Sweeney came in to face Jorge Posada with two runners on base, and he threw a wild pitch that allowed Rodriguez to reach third. He got Posada to ground into a double play, but Rodriguez scored to tie the score 1-1.
Aardsma pitched the ninth and needed a quick inning to avoid facing Rodriguez, and it didn’t happen.
He struck out Kevin Russo, batting in the ninth spot, but walked Derek Jeter before Nick Swisher launched a double to right field.
Aardsma got Mark Texeira to pop out to catcher Josh Bard, setting up an interesting decision for the Mariners — pitch to Rodriguez or walk him to load the bases and deal with Cano, a .337 hitter who’d already gotten two hits in the game.
“You look at their lineup, it’s pick your poison,” Wakamatsu said. “The last game in New York, Alex hit a home run. Cano is awfully tough.”
They chose to pitch to Rodriguez, but to do it carefully
“You have the ability to pitch around him,” Wakamatsu said.
Aardsma’s first pitch was 98 mph at the knees on the outside corner. The second was at the knees but over the plate, and Rodriguez pushed it into right field to score two runs.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog