By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — When the Atlanta Braves lost and the Seattle Mariners won Wednesday, there was a subtle continental shift in major league baseball.
The Mariners are now the hottest team in the big leagues, riding a seven-game winning streak that steamrolled their latest victims, the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-3.
No need to read it again. It’s true.
The Mariners are so hot that newly acquired left fielder Eric Thames made his Seattle debut and, apparently not realizing he was in Safeco Field, hit a long, two-run home run to center field in his second at-bat.
“I was trying not to strike out,” deadpanned Thames. “I had two strikes and Carlos (Villanueva) threw me a slider. I went down and got it.”
They’re so hot that Blake Beavan, brought up from Tacoma July 17, beat the Jays with 72⁄3 solid innings and is now 4-0 since his recall, 7-6 for the season in 16 starts.
“I’ve found a rhythm my last few starts and tried to stay with it,” Beavan said. “They were real aggressive with fastballs early in the count — they hit two solo home runs — so I started mixing in more breaking pitches and they had more trouble.”
The last time the Mariners won seven in a row was during an eight-game winning streak that went from June 23 to July …. 2007. How long ago was that streak?
When it came, Beavan had just been named the Most Valuable Player — on his high school team. When it reached eight games, then-Seattle manager Mike Hargrove abruptly resigned.
This team is too young to remember that kind of history, and most of them don’t go back in the organization more than a few years.
“Who’s the best team in baseball?” closer Tom Wilhelmsen was asking teammates after he’d turned the Mariners 50th into his 15th save.
“We are,” someone would answer.
“Damned right,” Wilhelmsen said.
The Mariners fell behind 1-0 early, scoring in the fourth inning to tie when Jesus Montero grounded into a double play with a man on third base.
Another Toronto home run and it was 2-1, then 3-1 in the fifth inning.
With two outs in their half of the inning, Mike Carp singled and Thames hammered a slider over the wall in center field to tie the score.
“That was good for him and good for us,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We were already on the board, but tying it right there changed the feel of the game.”
Michael Saunders doubled in the sixth inning — his second hit — and cleanup hitter John Jaso singled him home for a 4-3 lead.
“When you’re playing this well, you want to ride it as long as you can,” Jaso said. “And when you lose, get right back on it again.”
“We’re winning a lot of different ways,” Wedge said. “Up early, down early, close games — you have to maintain your heartbeat to compete. Our guys are doing a better job of that.”
Take Beavan, who was 3-6 with a zip code for an earned run average when sent to Tacoma in June. At 23, he’s among the youngest players on a young team, and since coming back he’s pitched well.
How well? Beavan is 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA in 281⁄3 innings in his four starts since returning with 18 strikeouts and one walk.
“I liked his slider a lot tonight, and his fastball was sharp. He kept a low pitch count and adjusted to what the Blue Jays were trying to do,” Wedge said.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum going right now,” Beavan said. “My mentality going out there is that no one can hit me. When I go out thinking that, my stuff plays better.”
Though many in a Safeco Field crowd of 22,537 were clearly Toronto fans, the fact that the can’t-win-at-home Mariners have won seven in a row here wasn’t lost on anyone.
The victory not only let the Mariners close the gap on .500 — they’re now 50-57 — it brought their record at Safeco Field to a more respectable 25-29.
Now, they’ll see how their act plays on Broadway, or at least in the Bronx, against the New York Yankees. Better, perhaps, than they might have seven games ago.