By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — Twenty-four hours after manager Eric Wedge said precisely what he wanted to do about the Seattle Mariners’ anemic offense, his players responded Saturday with a seven-run outburst.
Or maybe Oakland starting pitcher Jarrod Parker just had a bad night.
Whatever the cause, the Mariners loved the effect, making the most of nine hits to beat the Athletics 7-1 behind the pitching of Jason Vargas.
“Kevin Millwood pitched a great game last night and we lost, Vargas picked up right where he left off and we won,” shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “That was a game we should have won and didn’t and a game we did win.”
Wedge, critical on Friday, was pleased with what he saw this time.
“Tonight was what we’re looking for,” he said. “We had a complete game — defense, big hits and it all started with Vargas.
“Everything is freed up when you score a few runs early. It allows you to play with more confidence, and we did.”
Was Wedge apologetic about implying there would be changes to his roster after the All-Star break, or that some of his hitters either were not paying attention or were “dumb?”
“I wasn’t letting off steam,” he said Saturday. “Maybe if we went in my office, closed the door and had a few beers, yes. What I said was what I wanted to say.”
It’s not as if Seattle hitters rocked Oakland with a barrage of hits. They didn’t — collecting nine of them.
It was the situations in which they came that pleased Wedge and beat the Athletics:
w With two outs in the first inning, Michael Saunders worked an eight-pitch walk. John Jaso singled to center field, where Coco Crisp misplayed the hit into a run-scoring two-base error.
w Casper Wells singled and Justin Smoak doubled to set up a second-inning threat, and No. 9 hitter Brendan Ryan doubled over third base to chase home the runs that made it 3-1.
w Two outs into the fifth inning, Seattle loaded the bases on Ichiro Suzuki’s single and walks to Saunders and Jaso. Kyle Seager short-hopped the wall in right center frield with a double that scored three runs.
Behind those runs, Vargas shut down Oakland on seven hits, and seemed even more dominant by getting the ground balls that Seattle’s infield turned into four double plays.
“That’s a sign I’m down with my pitches, and getting two quick outs takes the momentum away from them,” Vargas said. “The defense was great behind me.”
It was the third consecutive solid start from Vargas, who had no decision in a 62⁄3 inning, two run game against Oakland on June 26 — and another despite going eight innings and allowing one run to Boston on July 1.
“Well, after the game in Arizona where I gave up 10 runs, every thing looks good,” he deadpanned. “It couldn’t get any worse.”
Vargas winning his team-high eighth game was only one of the Mariners highlights. After Wedge changed the lineup, he seemed to get some reaction.
Suzuki, dropped from leadoff to No. 2 in the batting order, started the night 0-fo-2, pushing his slump to a career-worst 0-for-23. He followed with a pair of singles.
Wells had a pair of hits, too, including his fourth home run, and Ryan had two to pull his batting average to .191.
“Ryan’s been creeping up, having much better at-bats,” Wedge said. “And his defense … well, you won’t see a shortstop make a better play than he made in the second inning.”
Against designated hitter Jonny Gomes, Ryan was playing deep, and still took two full steps onto the infield grass to field a ground ball, set and throw Gomes out by a half step.
“That got Vargas and Seager all fired up,” Ryan said, all smiles.
Seager, whose average had dropped to .241, still has the knack not only for RBI but two-out RBI. Down in the count, 0-2, before his three-run double, Seager was calm.
“You can’t be passive and take a third strike, so you look for a pitch you can do something with,” Seager said. “I got a curve ball up a little.”
Seager’s RBI were No. 50, 51 and 52 for him — and 29 of those have come with two outs. That’s the second highest total in the majors.
It was, of course, just one game, and Seattle’s 36th win in 86 games. With All-Star Felix Hernandez starting today, the Mariners could turn it into a series win, a two-game winning streak and, more important to Wedge, show improvement.
“We’re looking for signs on the field,” Wedge said. “Seeing them is the only way we an stick with ’em when we’re struggling. Tonight, there were signs.”