By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — It was only 10 days ago that Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma lost a game much like Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Safeco Field.
Not this time. Not the way the Mariners are rolling.
Kendrys Morales hit a two-run homer in the first inning against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — and Iwakuma and the bullpen made it hold up in completing a three-game sweep over the Blue Jays and an 8-1 homestand.
“We had the lead early,” Iwakuma said, “and that was great. I just needed to keep the ball down and get quick outs. I was able to do that.”
Iwakuma (11-6) worked the first 62⁄3 innings before a four-reliever relay completed the shutout.
Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 35th save, which pulled him back into a tie with Kansas City’s Greg Holland for the American League lead.
“It’s been good baseball,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “We’ve won in a variety of ways, which I think is good because that tests us in different ways. But this game sums it all up.
“We won a 2-0 game because our pitching staff held us right there.”
The Mariners, at 65-55, moved to 10 games above .500 for the first time since finishing the 2007 season at 88-74. They also remained in a virtual tie with Detroit (64-54) for the AL’s final wild-card berth.
The Tigers play Pittsburgh on Thursday, while the Mariners have an open date. That means, barring a rainout, the two teams will be separated by one-half game when they open a three-game weekend series Friday at Detroit.
This was a sweet turnaround for Iwakuma who lost a 1-0 heartbreaker on Aug. 3 at Baltimore when he surrendered a home run in the first inning. This time, it was the Mariners who struck early.
Austin Jackson opened the Mariners’ first with a single through the left side. Dickey (9-12) retired the next two hitters before Morales skied a 1-2 knuckler into the right-field seats for a 2-0 lead.
“He just left it up,” Morales said, “and I was able to connect. It’s not simple. I’ve hit against him in the past, and it’s not easy.”
Morales also had a single and a walk in four plate appearances after closing Tuesday’s victory with a homer and a double. It’s exactly what a pitching-rich, run-starved club needs.
“They brought me here for a reason,” said Morales, whom the Mariners reacquired in a July 24 trade with Minnesota. “While I haven’t had the results up to this point, I’ve kept working hard to bring that production.”
Iwakuma nursed the 2-0 lead into the seventh before issuing his first walk — to Munenori Kawasaki with one out. After Juan Francisco’s grounder resulted in a force at second, the Mariners went to the bullpen.
The switch to lefty Charlie Furbush prompted a counter-move: Danny Valencia batted for Josh Thole. Furbush walked Valencia, which turned over the lineup and led to another pitching change
Danny Farquhar struck out Jose Reyes.
Yoervis Medina worked around a two-out single in the eighth before Rodney closed out the victory. The Blue Jays scored four runs in the three-game series and fell three games behind the Mariners and Tigers.
“Yeah, they shut down our offense stone cold,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “It was pretty much a mismatch. Then they get to the bullpen, and there’s no let-up there either.”