By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Forgive the Seattle Mariners for feeling like the fisherman in the Brad Paisley song whose woman threatens that it’s either her or the lake, and he sings, “Well, I’m going to miss her.”
In a baseball sort of way, the Mariners are in the same boat.
Cliff Lee is pitching some of the best baseball in the history of the franchise, proving it again Wednesday night with his second straight complete game in the Mariners’ 8-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Safeco Field.
Lee is such an attractive trade piece that the Mariners may have little choice but to load up on the much-needed prospects they could get in return for him.
Considering that they’ve won a season-high six straight games yet remain 13 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West, the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline could be known as the Cliff Lee trade deadline.
If so, the Mariners are going to miss him.
Lee raised his record to 6-3, lowered his earned run average to 2.39 and — get this — pitched his fourth compete game this season and his third the past four starts, including two straight.
Lee challenged the Cubs so much that he had 19 no-ball, two-strike counts in the game.
Lee shattered Jamie Moyer’s franchise record for consecutive innings without a walk, extending the streak to 37 innings. Moyer went 28 1/3 innings in 2002.
“It’s about throwing strikes, going at them,” Lee said.
Along with that came nine hits by the Cubs, including Tyler Colvin’s solo home run in the second inning to put Chicago ahead 1-0.
The Mariners got that back with a week’s worth of scoring, including a four-run fourth inning, then two runs in the sixth and two in the eighth.
Michael Saunders drove in four runs in nearly every way possible — with a bases-loaded walk in the fourth, an RBI double in the sixth and a two-run homer in the eighth.
Meanwhile, Lee never wavered, even when the Cubs put runners on base.
He pitched only three 1-2-3 innings and allowed the leadoff hitter to reach five times, including the most stressful moment in the seventh when the Cubs had runners on second and third with nobody out. Like he did in the first, fourth and eighth when he got the Cubs to hit into double plays, Lee didn’t crumble in the seventh and escaped without allowing a run.
“You get a guy in scoring position with less than two outs, you understand what the hitter’s trying to do — to get him over and move him in,” Lee said. “I’ve got to try to prevent him from doing that. To do that, you’ve got to bear down and really make pitches in those situations.”
The Mariners are approaching record-setting territory with their stretch of strong pitching.
They’ve allowed three runs in a six-game span, tying a club record set Sept. 7-19, 2001.
They’ve allowed one run or less in six straight games, tied for the second-longest streak in major league history going back to 1920. The record is eight straight by the Kansas City A’s in 1966.
And Lee, even though he missed the first month of the season because of a strained abdomen muscle, leads the league with seven starts of at least eight innings. He and the Mariners’ starters have been so effective that setup man Brandon League and closer David Aardsma are the only relievers to have pitched since June 15.
Lee left them all sitting in the bullpen Wednesday night. His pitching was a clinic, and his description of it was something any pitcher could learn from.
“Stay away from 2-0 and 3-1 counts, that’s really all I’m trying to do out there the whole time. The sooner they swing, the better,” he said. “I’m going to have innings where they’re going to get a couple of hits here or there and I’ve got to bear down. That comes along with throwing strikes. But you’re also going to have quick innings, too. I’d rather see them get a hit than walk a guy.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog