By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Heads up, Mariners fans … those of you who haven’t been paying attention. This is how it looks when things are going your way. It’s intoxicating stuff for however long it lasts.
The Mariners saw Erasmo Ramirez escape one jam after another throughout the early innings Monday afternoon before handing the game to their bullpen and holding on for a 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“We’re just grinding it out,” center fielder James Jones said, “and our staff is doing well.”
Let’s quantify “well.”
That staff has four shutouts over the past eight games. The bullpen has allowed one earned run in its past 25⅔ innings. And the Mariners have won eight of their past nine in improving to 34-29.
“Our starters have given us everything we’ve asked of them and probably a little bit more,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but our bullpen is even better. It was a nice road trip for us.”
Monday capped a 6-1 trek that began a week earlier by winning a makeup game at New York before continuing with two victories in Atlanta. Then three victories in four games at Tropicana Field.
A lot of things are going right.
Consider Monday: Tampa Bay ace David Price (4-6) slipped only in a three-run third inning when the Mariners bunched four of their seven hits. He struck out 10 and walked one in eight innings.
“He’s a guy who you want to score early (against),” Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano said. “The deeper he goes in the game, the better he gets. You can see what happened after that.”
Cano provided the key hit in that three-run third with a two-run double on an 0-2 pitch with the bases loaded.
“The one pitch I’d like to have back,” Price said, “was the 0-2 fastball to Cano. Middle and up in the zone. That’s what good hitters do, and it hurt.”
Ramirez didn’t last long enough to get the victory because McClendon went to the bullpen with two out in the fifth inning after the Rays put runners at first and second.
“I just felt we got a lead against one of the toughest left-handers in all of baseball,” McClendon said, “and I just didn’t want to squander it. I wanted to give us every opportunity to put ourselves in a position to win the game.”
Joe Beimel (1-0) closed out that inning with a strikeout and got the first out in the next inning. That was judged sufficient — after three other relievers completed the shutout — to gain his first victory since July 24, 2011.
Dominic Leone got the final two outs in the sixth before Danny Farquhar survived trouble in seventh that sprouted when Kevin Kiermaier’s sharp grounder past first turned into a one-out double.
After Kiermaier stole third, Evan Longoria worked back from a 1-2 count for a walk. Farquhar escaped when James Loney grounded into a double play — with first baseman Willie Bloomquist making a run-saving scoop of Cano’s throw to complete the play.
Yep, when things are going right …
Farquhar rebounded by breezing through the eighth. Fernando Rodney then got three quick ground balls in the ninth for his 18th save in 20 chances.
When Price faced the Mariners on May 13 at Safeco Field, the Rays took him off the hook for a well-pitched loss by scoring twice in the ninth inning against Rodney in a 2-1 victory.
Not this time.
But not for a lack of chances. The Rays were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners. They didn’t score over the last 19 innings of the four-game series. The Mariners, in contrast, did just enough
John Buck’s leadoff single started the decisive third. He went to second on Bloomquist’s one-out single to center before Jones put down a perfect bunt for a single that loaded the bases.
Jones pushed the bunt toward the right side, and three Rays — Price, Loney from first and Ben Zobrist from second — went for the ball. Nobody covered first.
“I just took my chances in going toward Loney,” Jones said. “I mean, Longoria is a great defensive third baseman coming in. It’s probably an easier play for him.
“I’d rather put it in the confused area that involves three people. … The worst that could happen is a (sacrifice) where I get the guys over for Cano.”
After Cano’s two-run double, Stefen Romero delivered the third run on a grounder to second.
“This is the way we have to play,” Cano said. “We’re the type of team that has to do anything to win a game. We don’t have three or four guys who can hit 30 homers and have 100 RBIs. We’ve got to play the little game.
“Right now, we’re doing the little things.”
And right now, it’s all working.