By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — When a team is going well, small things make the difference — one swing, one pitch, one slide determines the outcome.
It’s Seattle manager Eric Wedge’s philosophy and, after striking out in each of his first three at-bats Wednesday, Mariners outfielder Eric Thames was more than willing to buy in.
That last at-bat came with two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game, and Thames lined a two-run double to beat the Cleveland Indians 3-1 and extend the Mariners winning streak to eight games.
“Up here at this level, it’s all about making the big pitch, getting the big hit,” Thames said. “This team? We’re playing our butts off, and if pitchers keep giving us the chance to win every game, why not win them?”
Seattle ended a nine-game home stand taking two of three games from Tampa Bay, sweeping Minnesota, and sweeping Cleveland.
What started the game-winning rally was Kyle Seager’s belief that a single wasn’t going to help as much as a double — so he turned his hit into right field into a hustle double, beating the tag with a creative slide.
“It’s the eighth inning, tie game, why not take the chance?” Seager asked. “Thankfully, I got there.”
“The key to that play was Kyle thinking ‘two’ right out of the batters box,” Wedge said. “You don’t make it up around first base, it’s those first two, three steps out of the box.”
Seager’s one-out double got Indians manager Manny Acta thrown out for arguing, although after seeing the replay he grudging acknowledged Seager had avoided the tag.
Following Seager’s double, the Indians intentionally walked John Jaso before striking out Jesus Montero. All that stood between them and maintaining the 1-1 tie was Thames.
He hadn’t made contact with a pitch in three previous at-bats.
“It’s how you deal with failure in this game that makes good players,” Wedge said. “You strike out three times, but your next opportunity might be the game.
“Your going to go up there thinking about the last three at-bats or the chance to win a game? One swing and you’re a hero. Eric was ready. And thinking fastball.”
“My whole plan was to get the bat head on the ball. I did, and it landed where no one was,” Thames said.
That was in the right-field corner of Safeco Field, and before the Indians could get the ball back in, Seager and Jaso scored and Thames was standing at third base after the throw home.
Those two runs, and a first-inning home run by Michael Saunders, who has four homers in his last four games and 14 for the season, accounted for Seattle’s scoring.
In the ninth inning the Indians had to watch M’s closer Tom Wilhelmsen trot to the mound. His first pitch was 95 mph. His sixth, according to the Safeco Field radar gun, was 100 mph.
Wilhelmsen put the Mariners’ 61st victory away with his 19th save, extending the longest winning streak since 2007, and one of the longest in franchise history.
The record is 15 in a row set, not surprisingly, in 2001 — the year the M’s won 116 games. The second longest are a pair of nine-game winning streaks, in 1995 and 2007.
“We’re like a highlight reel every night,” M’s shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “One night Trayvon Robinson is catching 20 balls in left field, the next night Dustin Ackley is getting outs while lying on his face. We’re getting great starting pitching, timely hitting, defense every night.
“We’re playing Mariners baseball.”
Hisashi Iwakuma started this one, and the Indians were after him almost every inning. While they piled up base runners, Iwakuma escaped with ground-ball double plays in the second, third and fourth innings.
It was 1-0 when Iwakuma left after 52⁄3 innings, but one of the runners he left on base scored.
The win went to rookie Stephen Pryor, who got the final two outs of the eighth inning and is now 3-0 with a 2.08 earned run average.
“We’re winning not just with different guys every night, but different lineups — we use the entire team, and everyone’s contributed,” Wedge said.
“We’re playing with heart,” Thames said. “Me, I just didn’t want to miss the fastball that last at-bat. You get the fastball you want, you can’t miss it.”