SEATTLE — The team that couldn’t — or, perhaps, wouldn’t — do even the most basic things right when their seven-game homestand began won again Sunday by executing what makes a difference between good teams and bad.
The Seattle Mariners hit, hit-and-ran, stole bases and bunted their way to a 4-2 victory, rallying with three runs in the eighth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field.
The Mariners have won two straight, and Sunday’s victory was the 2,500th in the 34-year history of the franchise.
“There’s a lot of fundamental stuff that we have been capable of doing all along, but we’ve just been underachieving and not getting it done,” said Milton Bradley, who dropped a pinch-hit squeeze bunt in the eighth to score the Mariners’ fourth run. “It’s nice to see us get it done.”
The Mariners trailed 2-1 until the eighth, when they scored on Michael Saunders’ two-run single and Bradley’s squeeze bunt — he did that on his own — to score Casey Kotchman. Closer David Aardsma completed a second straight game of flawless work by the bullpen, recording his 18th save.
Kotchman had reached with a sacrifice bunt off Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima that became an infield single to load the bases with nobody out. It set up Saunders’ big hit, and Jack Wilson also singled in the inning when he squared to bunt, then pulled the bat back and slapped the ball into right field.
“There was a lot of exciting stuff there,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “A lot of good baseball stuff that we’ve worked on for a long time, and to see it pay off was pretty special.”
The Mariners played with a crispness and intensity they hadn’t shown early in the homestand, doing it for the second straight game after Friday night’s dugout incident between second baseman Chone Figgins and manager Don Wakamatsu.
Coincidence? Not at all, Bradley said.
“It’s funny when stuff happens that’s distractions. It makes us that much tighter,” Bradley said. “We have a good group already so you aren’t going to break that up. When there’s a little bit of tension it makes us focus that much more.”
Figgins has played with more intensity — and effectiveness — the past two games.
Benched in the middle of Friday’s game after Wakamatsu didn’t believe he made an effort to retrieve a throw from the outfield, Figgins went 2-for-3 Sunday, reached base four times and scored the Mariners’ first run on Jose Lopez’s single in the third inning.
Saturday, in his first game after the controversy in the dugout, Figgins hit an RBI double and played well in the field.
“He’s playing great baseball,” said Wakamatsu, who credited Figgins’ acrobatic turn on a double play in the second inning with helping starting pitcher Doug Fister, who struggled with his control and pitched with Red Sox on base in all but the first inning.
Fister allowed seven hits in five innings but was nicked only by RBI hits from Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre when the Red Sox scored twice in the fourth inning.
“Fister battled all day long,” Wakamatsu said. “That fourth inning could have been a lot worse and he battled out of it, kept us in the ballgame and gave us five good innings.”
From there, the late-game heroes of the Saturday’s victory emerged again — Saunders and the bullpen.
Chris Seddon, Brandon League and Aardsma pitched four perfect innings, a relief effort that followed Saturday night’s 31/3 innings of hitless relief in the Mariners’ 5-1 victory. Seddon, who recorded his first major league victory Saturday, was 8-for-8 in first-pitch strikes in his 22/3 innings Sunday.
“He’s pounding them with strikes,” catcher Rob Johnson said. “It’s awesome. It’s fun. If Cliff Lee taught the pitchers anything and us catchers anything, it’s to pound the zone.”
Saunders was an eighth-inning hero a second straight game, again delivered an important hit off what had been his nemesis — a left-handed pitcher. Saturday, he hit a hanging curveball for a two-run homer off Red Sox starter Jon Lester; Sunday he yanked a two-strike curve from Hideki Okajima into right field for a single to score two runs and give the Mariners a 3-2 lead.
Early this season, Wakamatsu often would replace Saunders with a right-handed pinch hitter in such situations. But now, with the Mariners thinking as much about developing their young players for next year, Saunders is facing those lefties in key late-game at-bats.
“Last year I was looking at the name in the back more than (considering it) just another pitcher,” Saunders said. “I had no problems with lefties in the minor leagues and the more I see them, hopefully I won’t have too much trouble here, either.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog