By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners played with attitude, pitched with ferocity and beat the New York Yankees Tuesday, 4-2.
Mariners players might want to consider wearing body armor today.
Against a team that considers itself above being bothered by such things, Seattle ace Felix Hernandez hit three Yankee batters in the span of two outs — and sent third baseman Alex Rodriguez to the disabled list with a broken left hand.
That might enrage most anyone, but the Yankees aren’t likely to take the drilling of Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and A-Rod without visiting some terror of their own.
“None of those pitches were intentional,” catcher John Jaso said.
In a one run game in the eighth inning, which is when Hernandez hit Jeter and Rodriguez, the Yankees were in no position to retaliate — you don’t put runners on base in one-run games.
Today’s 12:40 p.m. game? Now that’s different.
“We’re an aggressive team, we played good baseball,” manager Eric Wedge. “I wouldn’t expect anything (today).”
What began with the Mariners scoring three early runs against New York became a much closer game late. By the ninth inning, Seattle had manufactured an insurance run — Kyle Seager’s infield roller chased home Dustin Ackley.
It ended with closer Tom Wilhelmsen’s 11th save, a 1-2-3 ninth inning in which he retired Eric Chavez, Suzuki and pinch-hitter Russell Martin.
“We’re getting better at finishing games off,” Wedge said. “We’re playing better baseball, we have the chance to win our third consecutive series (today.”
As for Hernandez, who won his ninth game and sliced his earned run average to 2.80, he said he knew from the first inning that his command was off.
“I threw a pitch to Curtis Granderson that wound up down the middle and he hit it for a home run,” Hernandez said. “I said, ‘Uh-oh!’”
Center fielder Michael Saunders tied the score with a solo home run of his own in the bottom of the first, his 10th of the season. In the third inning, Seattle went up 3-1 on an RBI single from Jesus Montero and Jaso’s sacrifice fly.
It was still 3-1 when Felix began hitting Yankees. Intentional? Listen to his catcher.
“We had two strikes on Ichiro and Felix had struck out a couple of guys with back door sliders,” Jaso said. “He threw one to Ichiro there and it broke down and hit him in the foot.”
“That was supposed to be an outside fastball and it just flew out of his hand and Derek had no chance,” Jaso said, shaking his head. “That really was a pitch that totally got away. The last thing you want to do in a 3-1 game is put the leadoff runner on base — Jeter wound up scoring.”
“That was a changeup,” Jaso said. “Alex had swung and missed a changeup before, so we came back with one and it hit him as he moved into it. If you’re going to hit anyone intentionally, it wouldn’t be with a changeup.”
Told that Rodriguez had a broken bone in his hand, Hernandez shook his head and winced.
“I feel bad about it,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to hit him, I was trying to get him out.”
With one out in the eighth — after he’d hit Rodriguez — Wedge pulled Hernandez after 117 pitches. Matched against his first baseball hero, fellow Venezuelan Freddy Garcia, Hernandez put up numbers that looked a lot like Garcia’s.
Both went 71⁄3 innings. Hernandez allowed four hits, Garcia five. Hernandez walked three batters, hit three others. Garcia didn’t walk or hit a batter.
Garcia struck out eight Mariners. Hernandez struck out four Yankees.
“Freddy pitched great tonight,” Hernandez said. “His command was great. Mine was terrible. I made pitches when I had to, and we won. We won because of the defense and offense.”
Ah, the defense. Saunders made a spectacular catch in the second inning to steal extra bases from Mark Texeira. Hernandez took a line drive off his rib cage from Eric Chavez the same inning and turned it into an out.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan fielded a grounder up the middle in the third inning and turned it into a fine double play.
“We have an awesome defense,” Hernandez said.
After a 5-2 trip, the Mariners are now 1-1 starting this home stand, with the chance to beat New York today and win the series. It won’t be easy under any circumstances — the Yanks have baseball’s best record.
But having hit three Yankees, putting one on the DL, it’s hard to imagine no Seattle player will face an inside pitch or two today. Tensions are likely to be high, and the probability of mound-charging incidents?
“We’re playing tougher baseball, good baseball,” Wedge said.