By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
CHICAGO — Nothing can be simple for the Seattle Mariners when they play the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
It seemed as though the Mariners were destined to add to their never ending collection of ways to lose a game on Chicago’s South Side on Friday night. They had lost 19 of their previous 22 games there.
In the latest chapter, the Mariners squandered a 6-1 lead in the course of two innings. They failed to find a way to win in regulation. Then, after taking a two-run lead in extra innings, they nearly blew it — all while playing in temperatures that would feel comfortable only to a polar bear.
Despite all of what went right and much of what went wrong in the game, the Mariners found a way to prevail in this house of horrors, outlasting the White Sox 8-7 in 10 innings.
“Close one there, eh?” Tom Wilhelmsen said.
Wilhelmsen’s second save of the season was far from easy. Given an 8-6 lead in the bottom of the 10th — thanks to RBI singles from Kendrys Morales and Jesus Montero — the Mariners’ closer needed just three outs to put this one in the books.
Of course, that isn’t easy in a park where a routine fly ball to left field can turn into a game-tying home run. But Wilhelmsen’s issue wasn’t with his pitches getting hit, it was getting pitches into the strike zone.
After getting a quick out in the 10th, Wilhelmsen walked Alexis Rios. It’s never good putting a runner on so the tying run is at the plate, but it happens. He came back to strike out Adam Dunn.
Two outs. Everything’s fine, right? Nope.
Wilhelmsen walked Paul Konerko and gave up an RBI single to DeWayne Wise. With the lead now down to 8-7 and two runners on, Wilhelmsen then walked Alexi Ramirez to load the bases.
Yet another crazy loss, or perhaps more extra innings, seemed imminent for the Mariners. But Wilhelmsen found his command and struck out Tyler Flowers on three straight pitches, to secure the rare win — just the second in 10 games — against the White Sox.
“Obviously, I couldn’t find the strike zone, walking just about everybody that came up there,” Wilhelmsen said. “I got lucky on the guys that swung early. In a game like that, you have to buckle down and keep fighting. We can’t lose that game.”
It would have been a bad loss in a place where the Mariners have had plenty of bad losses. Instead, it turned out to be a pretty good win.
“It was a tough ball game all the way to the final pitch,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Tommy made it tough on himself there at the end, but he got it done. It was just one of those days for him.”
There was so much more to the game than just Wilhelmsen’s struggles at the end.
Early on, the Mariners appeared to be destined for an easy win. Starter Blake Beavan cruised through three innings, retiring 11 of the first 12 batters he faced.
He even got some early offense. For the second time this season, Franklin Gutierrez led off the game with a home run. Gutierrez reached out and pushed a fastball barely over the wall in the right field corner off of White Sox starter Jose Quintana.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was out,” Gutierrez said.
Beavan gave away the 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. He allowed a two-out single to Dunn. In the quest for the third out, Beavan became so focused on Konerko at the plate — he ignored Dunn at first base. And even at 6-6, 285 pounds, Dunn could see Beavan wasn’t paying attention to him, and stole second base without even drawing a throw.
“I was focusing more on the hitter than Dunn being one out,” Beavan said.
Konerko made Beavan pay for the mistake, singling home Dunn to tie the score at 1-1.
“A run doesn’t score there if he doesn’t get to second,” Beavan said. “It’s little mistakes you look into and think about for your next time.”
The Mariners responded for Beavan an inning later, scoring five runs in the top of the fifth. Jason Bay led off the inning with a double, and it exploded from there. Brendan Ryan blooped a single in to score Bay. Gutierrez doubled home a pair of runs, Michael Saunders followed with an RBI triple, while Morales and Michael Morse added run-scoring singles, knocking Quintana from the game.
“A lot of guys contributed,” Wedge said.
Given a 6-1 lead, Beavan couldn’t make it hold because he stopped doing what got him through the first four innings — using his fastball.
Chicago scored four runs in the fifth inning, highlighted by a two-run homer from Alejandro De Aza and a solo homer from Alexis Rios.
“I thought Blake threw the ball well early on,” Wedge said. “He got away from what he was doing, and it happened quick. He got away from his fastball and got into a bad groove.”
In hindsight, Beavan could see his mistake in judgment.
“The first four innings I used my fastball quite a bit to get outs, and that fifth inning I tried to change it up a little bit,” he said. “My fastball should have been a better weapon for me. But I just didn’t realize it enough to use it at that time.”
Chicago tied the score in the seventh on a fielder’s choice.
Seattle did little against the White Sox bullpen after the fifth inning, managing just one baserunner till the 10th. Gutierrez led off extra innings with an infield single. Saunders bunted him to second and Morales doubled him home. The Mariners got the big insurance run when Montero singled to right-center, easily scoring pinch runner Robert Andino. It could have been more, but Montero was thrown out at home trying to score from first on Kyle Seager’s double to right-center.
Ugly as it was, the Mariners will take the win.
“Main thing is we got a win,” Beavan said. “I don’t think we’ve had a history of doing really well here in the past.”