By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
CLEVELAND — See what just a few runs can do?
The Mariners finally unlocked their attack Tuesday night with a four-run fourth inning — and the result was a 5-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the opener of a three-game series at Progressive Field.
Dustin Ackley marked his return to leadoff duty with his fifth three-hit game in July. His two-run double highlighted the decisive four-run fourth. The Mariners finished with 11 hits, including seven extra-base hits.
“Really, four or five runs is all we need with our starters and bullpen,” Ackley said. “We proved tonight that if we can get those runs early, and stay on them, we’ve got a good chance of winning.”
Hisashi Iwakuma (9-5), meanwhile, stretched his road unbeaten streak to 14 games by limiting the Indians to two runs and six hits in seven innings before handing the three-run lead to Charlie Furbush.
“I was very happy for that four-run inning,” Iwakuma said. “The last couple of starts, I would give up the first run or the lead early. So, today, I didn’t want to do that.”
“Even though I gave up two runs, it was nice that we put up those four runs.”
After Furbush sandwiched two strikeouts around a loud single, the Mariners called on Yoervis Medina, who retired Carlos Santana on a fly to deep left.
Fernando Rodney pitched around a one-out single in a scoreless ninth for his American League-leading 29th save. The Mariners, at 55-51, remained two games behind Toronto for the AL’s final wild-card spot.
The Mariners started their four-run fourth against Indians starter Trevor Bauer when, perhaps tellingly, Kyle Seager put down a shift-beating bunt single up the third-base line.
“We’ve been trying to encourage him to do more of that,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I can’t say that jump-started our rally. We got some big hits that inning, but it’s nice to see him do that.
“Hopefully, that will make other teams think about that shift a little bit.”
The inning blossomed when Corey Hart delivered an RBI double. Ackley added a two-run double before Chris Taylor capped the outburst with another RBI double.
It marked the Mariners’ first inning of four runs or more since scoring four in the sixth inning on July 2 at Houston in a 5-2 victory. They then failed to score four runs in 16 of their next 20 games.
Mike Zunino’s one-out homer in the fifth extended the lead to 5-0. It was a laser to left that just cleared the 19-foot mini-monster in left field and survived a replay review.
“Probably 19 (feet) exactly,” he said. “I think it bounced over. I had just enough. When I hit it, I knew I had a little bit of topspin on it. It hung up just enough to sneak over. I’m not complaining.”
Zunino’s homer was his 16th, which matched Seager for the club lead, and finished Bauer, who fell to 4-6 after allowing five runs and eight hits in 41⁄3 innings.
Then it was just a matter of holding on.
The Indians got two runs back in the fifth against Iwakuma after Nick Swisher led off with a double. Yan Gomes delivered a one-out RBI single and went to third on Chris Dickerson’s double.
Gomes scored on Jason Kipnis’ grounder to first before Iwakuma ended the inning.
Iwakuma got a reprieve in the seventh when David Murphy settled for a one-out double when a replay confirmed the ball did not clear the right-field wall. Iwakuma cashed the break by retiring the next two hitters.
The Mariners squandered a two-out triple in the seventh by Seager, and a leadoff double in the eighth by Logan Morrison. In the end, five runs were more than enough. The Mariners are 39-10 when they score four or more runs.
“We know the pitching staff and bullpen are going to be there,” Zunino said. “If we find a way to score those three or four runs, we’re feeling pretty good.”