By Kirby Arnold, Herald Writer
SEATTLE – In the beginning of this run of victories, the Seattle Mariners beat teams they should have beaten. They won four of six from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, two teams already in a thinking-of-next-year mode.
Then the Mariners ran into the Boston Red Sox last week and swept the first-place team in the American League East and, after an 8-3 victory Saturday night over the Toronto Blue Jays, they’re one victory away from another series sweep.
In what now qualifies as a serious roll, the Mariners have won seven straight and have pulled within four games of the first-place Angels in the American League West Division.
The Mariners already have clinched the series, their seventh out of nine, and a victory today would finish the longest homestand of the season with a 10-2 record. They’re also 11 games over .500 – 44-33 – for the first time since the end of the 2003 season.
Like most of the other games in the homestand, the Mariners have done it with a turnaround in their starting pitching, a continuation of their solid bullpen and, on Saturday in what became one of the best games of his career, a four-hit night by left fielder Ben Broussard.
Miguel Batista held the Blue Jays to five hits and a run in 61/3 innings and won his eighth game, most by a Mariner. Then he handed a two-run lead to a bullpen that operated Saturday without two of its best, closer J.J. Putz and rookie setup man Brandon Morrow, both unavailable after having worked each of the previous three games.
It didn’t matter.
Sean Green inherited a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh and erased it by getting Gregg Zaun to bounce back to the mound, starting a double play.
That preserved a 3-1 Mariners lead, attained in bite-sized chunks against Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay, then expanded with a five-run seventh against the Toronto bullpen.
“Roy is an awfully good pitcher,” Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. “We played a number of innings early on playing for one run. He’s tough to score on.
“But Batista was as good, if not better.”
Batista flirted with trouble in nearly every inning he worked but always made a key pitch to escape.
In the second, it was a double-play grounder after he’d put the first two runners on base. In the third, fourth and fifth, Batista pitched with runners on base and less than two outs but held the Jays scoreless.
And in the sixth, when the Jays did score their first run, they did it without a hit. Batista walked Vernon Wells to lead off the inning, threw a wild pitch and gave up two fly balls, the second a sacrifice by Frank Thomas to score the run.
By then, the Mariners already had a run of their own, having broken a scoreless tie in the fifth when Yuniesky Betancourt led off with a single and advanced around the bases on Willie Bloomquist’s sacrifice bunt, Ichiro Suzuki’s infield hit and Jose Vidro’s sacrifice fly.
After the Jays tied the score in the top of the sixth, the Mariners quickly untied it.
Broussard got the third of his four hits with a one-out single, Adrian Beltre hit a two-out single and Betancourt drove home both runners with a single to left for a 3-1 score.
Then the Mariners locked the game away with five runs in the seventh off Jays relievers Jason Frasor and Brian Tallet. Richie Sexson hit an RBI double, Broussard drove in two runs with a single, Betancourt hit a sacrifice fly and Bloomquist hit an RBI single.
Broussard, who has started six of the past seven games, most as Raul Ibanez recovers from a mild hamstring strain, finished with four hits for the seventh time in his career. Hargrove said Ibanez probably would DH today.
The five-run inning couldn’t have been more welcomed by a Mariners bullpen that needed a cushion so it could get by without Putz and Morrow.
“We have guys who can come in and shut people down, as they’ve done all year,” Hargrove said. “While we didn’t have that security blanket of J.J. and Brandon at the end, the rest of our guys stepped up.”
Green, working in his third straight game, gave up two hits and a run in the eighth, making the score 8-2, before Hargrove brought in left-hander Eric O’Flaherty.
O’Flaherty quickly got two outs to end the top of the eighth and was on the verge of ending the game in the ninth. Alex Rios blooped a two-out double to right field, moved to third on a throwing error and scored on Curtis Thigpen’s single, making the score 8-3, before Wells grounded out to end the game.