By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners first two runs Sunday got them a lead against the Minnesota Twins, but they weren’t the kind that invoked cheering.
One was forced home by a bases-loaded walk, the other pushed in on a bases-loaded double play. Then, in the eighth inning, the Twins made a mistake — and Seattle used it to score three times in a 5-1 victory that was the Mariners fifth in a row.
“You see it in the clubhouse now, we come to win games,” M’s center fielder Michael Saunders said. “We’re having fun.”
Blake Beavan got the victory with a 51⁄3-inning start, and the game was blown open when Twins outfielder Matt Carson simply missed a Dustin Ackley line drive that was ruled a double.
Saunders followed with his 11th home run, hot-hitting Eric Thames doubled home another run later in the inning and the Mariners rolled to a sweep of the Twins.
“We’re a good team,” Seattle reliever Josh Kinney said. “We have a lot of good young talent, the best pitcher in the game and a manager with a plan. We’re a good team learning to be a really good team.”
These aren’t your 2012 pre-All-Star game Mariners.
Since the All-Star break, Seattle starting pitchers are second in the majors with a 3.04 earned run average. Mariners hitters have out-scored the opposition 59-24 in the first two innings of games since the break.
And the Mariners have a 22-13 record.
“Starting pitching has been great and the bullpen has been on a roll for most of the season,” Saunders said. “We’ve been in enough close games to know what it takes to win them.”
Detractors can point to their schedule, and though the Mariners have faced the Yankees, Rangers, Rays and Angels 15 times since the break, they’ve faced the Royals, Blue Jays, and Orioles 14 times.
The Mariners, however, point out they’re not responsible for the schedule — they simply play whoever they’re told to play.
It just so happens, they’re playing better baseball against everyone the past five weeks.
One example in this game came in the second inning, when Beavan flubbed a double play by not getting his foot on the bag in time — a mistake that cost him one run.
In position to cough up the big inning, Beavan didn’t, and the Twins came away with a 1-0 lead the Mariners brushed aside an inning later.
“When I get into trouble, I really focus on the next pitch,” Beavan said. “If I execute that one, I go from there. When you make good pitches, it is so much easier.”
That’s a lesson Twins starter Samuel Deduno is still learning. He lost the strike zone in the third inning, and the Mariners worked him for a single and three walks before he got an out to tie the score.
When Jesus Montero got a bit anxious and grounded into a double play, Seattle came away with a run and a 2-1 lead.
A Safeco Field crowd of 22,635 wasn’t exactly enthralled by that offense, but they cheered as Beavan and his bullpen made it stand up into the seventh inning.
Carter Capps, Oliver Perez and Kinney finished, with Kinney getting the first save of his big-league career with 21⁄3 scoreless innings.
“Thirteen years in baseball, that’s my first save in the majors,” said Kinney, who has appeared in 73 major-league games. “I think they gave it to me because I threw enough pitches (43) …”
It wasn’t until Kinney walked two men with one out in the ninth inning that the crowd grew restless, and the scoreboard bulletin that Tom Wilhemsen was warming up had fans buzzing.
Really? Did the Mariners have to go to their closer with a 5-1 lead?
“We wanted to stay away from him, but Josh had taken it about as far as we were going to let him, then he got the last two outs,” manager Eric Wedge said.
For Saunders, that game-breaking home run was the result of a ‘back-to-basics’ week of work that followed a 2-for-42 slump that threatened to ruin a solid season.
“I’d been trying too hard, doing too much and that doesn’t work,” Saunders said. “I went back to Ground Zero, which was before spring training, and started over.”
The home run was a career high 11th for Saunders, who his batting .243 with 17 stolen bases.
“I’m fine with his year,” Wedge said. “Michael is a good player who is going to get better. Whether it’s in the outfield, on the bases or at the plate, he’s just scratching the surface.”