SEATTLE — Only something like the Major League Baseball trade deadline could have overshadowed Hisashi Iwakuma’s performance on Monday night at Safeco Field.
The Japanese right-hander turned in the best outing of his brief big league career, pitching eight solid innings and setting a Seattle Mariners rookie record with 13 strikeouts in a 4-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. It was the fifth straight win for Seattle.
But the performance was somewhat lost during the game and after it with a series of trades made by both teams.
In the seventh inning, Toronto’s Travis Snider, who played at Jackson High School, was removed from the game just moments after he had jogged out to left field before the seventh inning. The Blue Jays had just traded the Mill Creek native to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Brad Lincoln. Snider gathered his gear, hugged his teammates and was gone.
And after the game, when the Mariners expected to be celebrating Iwakuma’s first win as a starter and Lucas Luetge’s first career save, they were met with the sobering news that two of their teammates had been traded.
Relievers Brandon League and Steve Delabar were both notified when they walked into the club postgame that they were traded in separate deals.
Delabar, who is 2-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 34 appearances, won’t have to go far today. He was traded to the Blue Jays for outfielder Eric Thames.
“My emotions are up in the air,” Delabar said noting that it was the Mariners that gave him a chance when he was substitute teaching in high school. “It never hurts to stay in the big leagues.”
Thames was hitting .335 (65-for-194) with 15 doubles, three triples and six home runs and 32 RBI in 53 games with Class AAA Las Vegas. But he does have 141 games of big league experience where he was a .257 hitter.
League is headed to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return, the Mariners will receive a pair of prospects — outfielder Leon Landry and right-handed pitcher Logan Bawcom.
“I gave a couple high fives and they called me into the office,” League said.
Was he surprised?
“You can’t ignore the rumors,” he said. “The deadline is the deadline. For the past three years, I’ve been hearing stuff. I’ve said nothing but express how much I love Seattle and want to stay here. But I’m also a free agent at the end of the year and you never know what might happen.”
League lost his closing job this season and was demoted to set-up man. He was 0-5 with nine saves and a 3.69 ERA.
“Things didn’t really work out, but I kept pitching and kept trying to help the team,” League said.
Landry is hitting .328 with 26 doubles, 15 triples, eight homers and 51 RBI for Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He will report to Class A High Desert in the same league. Meanwhile, Bawcom is 4-4 with 20 saves and a 2.03 ERA in 39 relief appearances combined in stops in Class A and Class AA. He will report to Class AA Jackson.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was told before the game he couldn’t use League or Delabar and closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was with his wife who was in labor with their first child, was also unavailable.
It made what Iwakuma did that much more important.
Iwakuma turned in the best outing as a Mariner and the perhaps the best outing of any Seattle rookie pitcher, pitching eight innings, giving up just one run on four hits and striking out 13 hitters — the most by any Mariners rookie in club history.
The previous record was held by Randy Johnson, Mark Langston and Freddy Garcia, who all had 12 strikeouts as rookies for Seattle. The 13 strikeouts also tied the Mariners’ season high, which was set by Felix Hernandez on June 29 against Boston.
How good was Iwakuma?
After giving up a lead-off homer to Rajai Davis to start the game, he didn’t allow another hit until the fourth inning. He worked his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out mess in the second and only allowed two runners to make it second base after that.
And then there were the strikeouts.
Iwakuma, who came into the game averaging just over 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings, doubled that output. And he did so against a Blue Jays team that has hit 145 homers this season — second most in the American League, and have struck out at a far less rate than over half the teams in the AL.
The Blue Jays’ top four hitters of Davis, Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion — struck out a combined nine times and managed just Davis’ home run in 16 at-bats against Iwakuma.
And Iwakuma did this on a serious case of jetlag.
He left for Japan on Thursday to be with his ailing father. He returned on Saturday.
“I really didn’t think about that,” he said through his translator. “I only thought of the game. I just did the same preparations and mostly tried to pitch.”
The Mariners provided Iwakuma with the run support early. Seattle answered Davis’ home run with two runs in the bottom of the first, scoring on a fielder’s choice and a Kyle Seager RBI single.
They added another run in the second on Lawrie’s fielding error on a hard hit ball by Brendan Ryan.
They picked up an insurance run in the fifth on Michael Saunders’ RBI double.