By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Once they’d watched Felix Henandez lose a 5-0 lead two nights earlier, seen their record on this nine-game trip drop to 1-6, the Seattle Mariners might have caved against the Los Angeles Angels.
Instead, Seattle won behind Hisashi Iwakuma and on Sunday, Jason Vargas out-pitched the Angels’ ace, Jered Weaver, and with the help of two Jesus Montero home runs, won 4-1.
“We had a tough trip, but taking this series, beating a pitcher having a season like that, it sends us home feeling a little better about ourselves,” Vargas said.
Vargas pitched into the ninth inning to get his career-best 13th win, throwing 96 pitches in mid-90s heat, holding the Angels offense to seven hits.
Weaver, who came in 15-1 with a nine-game winning streak, lasted seven innings, but the Mariners stuck with their approach and made him work — even though they had only one hit in the first five innings.
“You’re talking about a guy who can pitch in or out, up or down, with a handful of pitches,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We made him work with some tough at-bats, by making him throw a lot of pitches and I think we wore him down a bit.”
Montero did more than that.
Opening the second inning, he hit the first pitch Weaver threw him over the center field fence — just beyond a leaping Mike Trout.
“I thought he was going to catch it for a second, it scared me,” Montero said. “Against Weaver, who throws across his body, I always think ‘stay up the middle.’ That’s what I try to do every time up.”
On this 3-6 trip through New York, Baltimore and Anaheim, Montero came in with 11 hits in 28 at-bats — a .392 average — but without a home run.
Then, against a guy looking for his 16th win, Montero hit two.
“I try to hit the ball hard and see what happens,” he said. “I don’t try to hit home runs. I try to be quick to the ball and react to the pitch.”
With the game tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning, John Jaso singled, Seattle’s second hit of the game. Weaver through Montero a changeup, and Montero put it over the fence in the left field corner.
From there, it was a matter of whether the Mariners could hold — and Vargas did.
“Jason had a fantastic game,” said Montero, who was the Mariners’ catcher on Sunday. “His changeup was amazing. It was unbelievable how well he pitched.”
Especially when he was in trouble.
“They were set up for a big inning a few times,” Vargas said. “But our defense was good and I made pitches when I had to.”
The Angels stranded runners at third base in the second, third and fourth innings, leaving the bases loaded in the third. After that, forget it — Vargas retired 13 of 14 batters before allowing a one-out single in the eighth inning.
Then he got Albert Pujols to ground into a double play, superbly turned by Kyle Seager to Brendan Ryan to Dustin Ackley.
Seager was playing second base that inning, Ackley first base, because first baseman Mike Carp left the game after slipping while coming out of a stretch.
Chone Figgins came into play third base, and tripled home a run in the ninth inning.
“I can still hit,” Figgins said, despite a .188 batting average.
So Vargas took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth, got Mike Trumbo on a comebacker but gave up a triple off the base of the center field wall to Howie Kendrick.
Wedge came to the mound and waved for his closer Tom Wilhelmsen.
“Could Jason have finished? I think so. But he’d given us enough,” Wedge said.
Wilhelmsen finished Saturday night’s game in a bit of a daze, having just returned from the birth of his first child. This time, he came in as a reliever, not a proud papa.
“I felt like I always feel in the ninth — good,” he said.
Wilhelmsen struck out Eric Aybar, got a routine fly ball from Vernon Wells and picked up his 16th save. It left Seattle with a 28-34 road record in 2012, a 53-63 mark overall.
“We had a tough trip, played some games that came down to the last pitch and could have gone either way,” Wedge said. “We’re going home, and I thought we kind of broke through there our last home stand.”
That, of course, resulted in a seven-game winning. Against the odds, the Mariners now come home with a two-game streak in progress.