By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
NEW YORK — Standing with a beverage in his hand in the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse, closer Tom Wilhelmsen was a satisfied man.
“Everything you could want as a ninth-inning guy happened right there,” Wilhelmsen said.
Just about everything the Mariners could want happened Thursday night in the Bronx. Seattle piece-mealed together a 3-2 win over the Yankees that came to a taut conclusion with the tying run on third and an All-Star at the plate. The win gave the Mariners the series victory and moved them to within a game of .500 (20-21).
The Mariners dealt with a change at the start. Aaron Harang was scratched because of a stiff back. That sent Hector Noesi — onetime Yankees property until the Michael Pineda trade — out to start.
He worked through 41⁄3 innings, allowing an unearned run. He left with two on, which started the tension-tightening that didn’t end until Wilhelmsen battled Cano.
Oliver Perez came in to relieve and bail out Noesi in the fifth. The resurrected left-hander has been a dominant reliever for the Mariners this year and Thursday was no different.
With runners on first and third, he struck out Brett Gardner and forced Jayson Nix to pop out. Perez started the sixth by striking out Cano and Vernon Wells. He walked Lyle Overbay on a 3-2 pitch before Curtis Granderson trickled an infield single into a prime spot.
That’s when Robby Thompson — acting as manager after the second-inning ejection of Eric Wedge, his first this season — went to Yoervis Medina. With two on and two out, David Adams grounded out. Medina had picked up Perez, who had done the same for Noesi.
Medina found trouble in the seventh when Ichiro Suzuki singled to lead-off the inning, Chris Stewart walked and Cano hit an infield single off Lucas Luetge that scored Ichiro.
A diving stop by Kendrys Morales to keep Brendan Ryan’s throw from going past him saved a second run. “Play of the game,” Ryan said.
The bullpen was trying make Michael Morse’s 10th home run of the season remain the difference.
The signal went out for Carter Capps. He retired menacing Vernon Wells, who has 10 home runs this season.
Capps pushed through the eighth, striking out Suzuki with a slider to end the inning with Granderson in scoring position.
Enter Wilhelmsen. He created a bumpy path for himself by uncharacteristically falling behind each hitter in the ninth. Gardner, one of the swiftest players in the league, hit a single to left posing a danger. He stole second. Wilhelmsen roared back from a 2-0 count to strike out Nix a pitch after Gardner stole third.
That left Cano, a four-time All-Star with 103 career homers in Yankee Stadium.
“Every guy’s in it, on the bench, on the field,” Ryan said. “That’s as fun as it gets there in the end. I looked at (Dustin) Ack(ley), I was like, ‘This is awesome.’”
With Gardner shuffling down the third-base line, Wilhelmsen worked from the stretch. He rallied to go ahead 1-2, threw a changeup and Cano caught a sliver of it. Wilhelmsen went back to the fastball, which Cano bounced to Ryan for a clean final out.
Wilhelmsen pumped his fist. Wedge watched with satisfaction from his office.
“There’s no way we’re going to lose that game,” Wilhelmsen said. “I certainly wasn’t going to be the guy to do it. Emotions were high. No matter what side you’re on, that’s a baseball game.”
And, it was quite the series. The Mariners left Yankee Stadium with a single regret: That they didn’t sweep. That opportunity was lost when the bullpen couldn’t hold on after Felix Hernandez’s early departure Tuesday.
“It should be a huge lift,” Wedge said. “It’s tough to play here. That was one hell of a series. Getting the lead and holding on to it and you have one of the best hitters in the game making the last out? It doesn’t get any tougher than that.”