By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The day Blake Beavan returned from the Class AAA Tacoma, Seattle Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis telephoned Rainiers pitching coach Dwight Bernard.
“I wanted to know if he was doing anything different,” Willis said. “Dwight and I talked, then I watched Blake throw in Kansas City — and he had this little pause in his delivery …”
That little pause helped Beavan beat the Royals, then dominate the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, earning a 2-1 win that left Seattle 5-2 on a seven-game trip.
“We just had a very good trip, our pitching did a great job, we played like a team,” Mariners catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero said.
“We won five games and the two we lost were walk offs,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Every game was close, the kind where one pitch can be the difference.”
“It was 2-1 after the second inning, and Blake gave us a great performance,” Wedge said.
And that small pause in is delivery?
“Before I talked to him, I called Dwight again the next day and he said, ‘He wasn’t doing that here,’” Willis said, laughing. “Blake sort of devised it on the fly.
“So I asked why he was doing it. He said it helped him establish his direction, helped his breaking pitches. I’m not a fan of making changes just to make them, but if you give me a legitimate reason, I’ll listen.”
Here’s a good one: Since returning from Class AAA, Beavan is 2-0 with a 3.60 earned run average.
Seattle scored in the first inning when Ichiro Suzuki, who’d had a tough three games inside Tropicana Field, tried to bunt Casper Wells from second to third base with no one out.
Instead, he bunted directly back to the mound, and Wells was thrown out at first base. It was Ichiro’s second blown bunt attempt in the series.
“I think he felt that,” Wedge said.
Ichiro responded by stealing second base, then stealing third base to set up Montero’s RBI double.
“Every time I come up with an RBI opportunity, I want to get that run in,” Montero said. “I’m being more patient. Seeing more pitches, hitting better pitches. I keep telling myself to be patient, not to hurry.”
It worked on this trip — Montero was 12-for-26 with a home run and nine RBI.
Still, an inning later, the game was tied. Michael Saunders dragged a bunt with him for a base hit, then stole second base.
“He’s just taking advantage of his mindset and his skillset,” Wedge said. “He used his speed and we got a run out of it.”
The Mariners scored their second run — and the last of the day for either team — when Brendan Ryan doubled Saunders home.
Beavan had two tough innings — the first and eighth.
After being helped in the first when Icihro made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Carlos Pena of extra bases, bad luck played a part in the Rays’ rally.
Ben Zobrist hit a two-out grounder that kicked off the bag at first base, bouncing high over Justin Smoak’s head an into the outfield for a double.
If it doesn’t hit the base, it’s the third out of the inning.
Instead, Matt Joyce followed with a single and Zobrist scored.
From there, Beavan pitched against Tampa Bay the way he had against everyone in the Pacific Coast League. Four times, he retired the Rays in order. Once, he allowed a single, then erased the base runner with a double-play ground ball.
“I kept reminding myself, whenever they got someone on, it only took one pitch to get out of trouble,” Beavan said. “I executed my pitches today and got out of a couple of jams.”
Yes, Tampa’s Mike Moore was just as dominant, retiring 17 Mariners in a row in one stretch, but he had a problem.
Seattle had scored twice against him.
No matter how well he pitched after that, Moore was dependent upon his offense, and that offense couldn’t break through against Beavan after the first inning.
The Rays came close in the eighth inning, putting Demond Jennings aboard on a leadoff error by shortstop Ryan. Jennings got to third on a pair of ground ball outs.
That brought up B.J. Upton, with the tying run 90 feet away and a crowd of 20,908 cheering him on.
Beavan got Upton on a pop fly.
“One pitch to get out of trouble,” Beavan said again. “I made the pitch.”
The ninth inning belonged to Tom Wilhelmsen, who has become one dominant closer since inheriting the job from Brandon League. In save opportunities since seizing the job in early July, the big right-hander had gone 9-for-9 — with a 0.00 earned run average.
Against the Rays on Sunday, Wilhelmsen’s roll continued.
He struck out Carlos Pena, retired Zobrist on a ground ball, then allowed a double to Matt Joyce and had to face the Rays’ hottest hitter, Jeff Keppinger (.325).
Keppinger walked, and Tampa sent up pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui.
Wilhelmsen, pitching for the third consecutive game, got Matsui to pop up the first pitch he saw, the 19th Wilhelmsen needed.
It produced his 10th save.