By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
BOSTON — Just hours after their remarkable ninth-inning rally, the Seattle Mariners produced a seven-run fourth inning Saturday before riding a shutdown bullpen performance to a 7-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
Dustin Ackley’s three-run homer capped the seven-run burst, which erased a three-run deficit. Ackley had a key two-run single Friday when the Mariners scored five runs with two outs in the ninth for a 5-3 victory.
“Nobody here is really panicking anymore,” Ackley said. “We all know what we’re capable of doing. Especially after the first time through, I think everybody thought, ‘Now, we’re going to get him. We’ve seen him.’”
That “him” was Boston starter Brandon Workman, who failed to survive the fourth inning after the Mariners matched a season high with seven hits.
“We strung together three hits right off the bat,” Ackley said, “and that inning just took off from there.”
When Chris Young threatened to squander the lead later in the inning — the Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs — the Mariners went to their hammer; a shutdown bullpen that delivered 51⁄3 scoreless innings.
“It was a tough assignment,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Today was not easy. We really had to grind and get through that day.”
Grind or not, the victory enabled the Mariners to stretch their lead, temporarily, to 11⁄2 games over Detroit in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
The Tigers lost the opener to a doubleheader Saturday at Minnesota. The Mariners’ lead would be either one or two games by the end of the night, depending on how Detroit did in the second game.
Kendrys Morales and Seager opened the decisive fourth inning with singles against Workman (1-7) before Chris Denorfia pulled an RBI double into left.
Endy Chavez struck out, but Chris Taylor punched an RBI single into right. That made it 3-2 with runners at the corners and one out.
Workman threw a wild pitch on his first offering to Jesus Sucre, which scored Denorfia with the tying run. Taylor moved to second and stole third, which prompted the Red Sox to shorten their infield.
It didn’t matter.
Sucre drove a clean single to left, and the Mariners led 4-3.
Austin Jackson punched a single into center before Ackley cranked a 1-2 fastball — an 89-mph fastball — into the right-field seats for a three-run homer and a 7-3 lead.
“I think he was trying to elevate up and in,” Ackley said. “He probably missed a little bit down. I was able to keep it fair and squeak it in down that line there.”
That, finally, finished Workman, who faced eight batters in the fourth inning but retired just one. In came Alex Wilson, who retired the next two hitters.
The seven-run inning was one shy of the Mariners’ season high; they had eight in the seventh inning on May 3 in a 9-8 victory at Houston.
Young gave up single runs in each of the first three innings — and did well to limit the damage — but couldn’t make it through the fourth.
“Listen, he deserved to be out there,” McClendon said. “We made every effort to get him a win. The pitch count got to a point where we just couldn’t do it. He just didn’t have his stuff today.
“That happens. It hasn’t happened often this year.”
After the Red Sox loaded the bases loaded and two outs, McClendon summoned Tom Wilhelmsen, who stranded all three runners by striking out Mike Napoli. That was Boston’s last big threat,
“Nothing different (from closing),” said Wilhelmsen, who lowered his ERA to 2.11. “Your name gets called, it’s your turn to pitch, no matter the score. You’ve got to get outs. … Felt pretty live today.”
From there on, it was just a matter of whether the league’s best bullpen could protect the lead as the shadows moved across the field. The relief corps lowered its ERA to 2.39.
“Obviously,” Young said, “the goal is to go deep into games and turn it over to them with less innings to work. But they’ve been unbelievable. Every arm down there, they come in and pick us up time and time again.”
Wilhelmsen (2-2) pitched through the fifth. Charlie Furbush struck out the first two batters in the sixth before hitting David Ortiz. That prompted a move to Danny Farquhar, who ended the inning.
Ortiz later left the game because of a bruised left elbow and, almost on cue, Wilson hit Robinson Cano in the back in the seventh inning. That brought a warning to both benches. There were no further incidents.
After Farquhar pitched through the seventh, Yoervis Medina yielded a leadoff double in the eighth inning before retiring the next three hitters. Medina closed out the victory by striking out the side in the ninth.
It represented a nice bounce-back after two sub-par outings.
“I was concentrating,” Medina said, “and the movement on my pitches was good. The last few times, my slider was moving too much. Today was really good.”
In many ways. And, now, the Mariners have a chance Sunday to do something they’ve never done: Sweep a three-game series at Fenway Park.