SEATTLE — Like the old baseball saying goes, when you’re in need of a run late in the game, the guy you want up there is your .178-hitting, No. 9 batter.
Wait, no, that’s not right at all. Nobody says that.
Well on Tuesday night, that actually turned out to be a big part of the winning formula for the Mariners, who beat Oakland 3-2 thanks to an eighth-inning RBI single by slick-fielding, but not-so-big-hitting shortstop Brendan Ryan.
OK, so it wasn’t just Ryan who led the Mariners to victory Tuesday in front of 12,411 at Safeco Field, there was also some very good pitching along the way, particularly by starter Jason Vargas, who struck out 10 in 62⁄3 innings. And despite Ryan’s low average, he has actually been hitting much better of late, batting .323 with 7 RBI in the past 10 games, which is part of the reason Wedge stuck with him rather than summon a pinch hitter late in the game.
“He’s been seeing the ball better and his balance has been better,” Wedge said. “Obviously he stepped up big for us tonight. That was a big hit for us late in that ballgame.”
Ryan, whose go-ahead hit was a line-drive just over the glove of leaping second baseman Jemile Weeks, said it has felt like there are extra players on defense sometimes this year, and when the ball left his bat, he wasn’t sure if it was going to be another hard-hit out.
“I was just happy to see the ball hit some grass,” he said.
The winning rally started with a Casper Wells single, and while Dustin Ackley was unable to successfully bunt Wells over, Wells did get into scoring position by stealing second. Ryan then worked the count to 3-0, but when Oakland reliever Jim Miller battled back to get two strikes, the Mariners shortstop knew he had to be aggressive with a full count, especially since Miller threw a breaking ball on a 3-0 count.
“When he threw the 3-0 slider, you didn’t know what was going to come, so I wanted to make sure I made a good pass on a strike,” Ryan said. “I didn’t want to be passive up there and take a third strike, because hitting a buck-seventy, a buck-eighty, I’m not the guy you want to walk. I’m just glad it worked out.”
Of course Ryan’s heroics were only possible because of an impressive bounce-back performance by Vargas and another solid night from the Mariners bullpen. Vargas had given up 10 home runs in his previous four starts, and was rocked in Arizona last week, allowing five home runs and 10 earned runs in 4.1 innings. On Tuesday, Vargas struck out five straight batters in the first two innings, and 10 overall to match a career high.
With Erasmo Ramirez striking out 10 Athletics hitters on Monday night, he and Vargas became the first Mariners pitchers to record double-digit strikeout totals since Paul Abbott and Freddy Garcia did it on Aug. 23 and 24, 1999.
“You can only get away with making mistakes for so long before they start to snowball on you, and I felt like that’s what happened in Arizona,” Vargas said. “There was something that needed to change; I needed to get my changeup to a point where it was a factor in the game, and it seemed to show up tonight.”
After the A’s tied the game with two runs in the seventh, Charlie Furbush pitched a scoreless eighth to earn the win, and in the process he extended his scoreless streak to 201⁄3 innings, the fourth-longest streak by a Mariners reliever in franchise history. Furbush has also recorded at least one strikeout — he had three Tuesday — in 17 straight appearances.
“It wasn’t exactly how I planned it, but I just beared down and tried to make some pitches and get it done,” said Furbush, who walked Weeks to lead off the inning, then intentionally walked Yoenis Cespedes with two outs after Weeks stole second.
The Mariners came into the game within striking distance of some dubious history having not scored in 23 innings, and having been shut out in back-to-back games, it was entirely possible to believe they were capable of threatening the franchise record of 30 scoreless innings.
This streak only reached 25 innings, however, because the Mariners broke through for a pair of runs in the third inning to take an early lead. Dustin Ackley started things off in the third with a leadoff single, then following a fly out by Ryan and a single by Ichiro Suzuki, Ackley came in to score on a Franklin Gutierrez double off of the center-field wall. Kyle Seager followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Suzuki.
After flailing at Vargas pitches for six innings, the A’s finally got to the Mariners starter in the seventh. Cespedes gave Oakland its first run with a line-drive home run to left-center, then after a Seth Smith double ended Vargas’ night, Jonny Gomes singled off of Brandon League to tie the game at 2-2.
From there, the Mariners used a bare-down eighth inning from Furbush, some heroics from an unlikely source, and another lock-down ninth inning from Tom Wilhelmsen to secure a victory.
“I’m just glad we got a W,” Ryan said. “Happy for us.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.