SEATTLE — Another tweak near the top of the batting order produced something completely different Tuesday night for the Seattle Mariners.
The middle of the lineup delivered a victory.
Manager Don Wakamatsu moved slugger Russell Branyan and his team-best on-base percentage up to the second spot and the hitters behind him responded in an 8-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field.
Adrian Beltre, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jose Lopez, the middle three hitters who’ve produced little more than a collective groan this season, each went 3-for-5 and combined to drive home five runs. Lopez drove in three runs and Griffey homered in his final at-bat, his sixth this season.
“We’re looking for some of those guys to step up and they did tonight,” Wakamatsu said.
Branyan set them up well from the second spot with two hits and a walk, finishing with a two-run homer in the eighth inning for his team-high 12th.
“Switching it up a little bit, it’s nice to get Ichiro and Russell up there as many times as we did,” Wakamatsu said. “We felt like we were pressuring those guys in every inning.”
The Mariners had runners as far as second base in every inning and scored in five of their eight at-bats.
“What I care about is these guys clicking as a team,” Wakamatsu said. “It was the first time in a long time that I felt we pressurized them every single inning.”
That was hardly all the glee to break out.
Ichiro Suzuki had two hits and broke his own franchise record by extending his hitting streak to 26 games, and Erik Bedard held the Orioles to four hits in 61/3 innings in which he threw a season-high 112 pitches.
Suzuki’s infield single in the first inning not only beat the team-record hitting streak he set in 2007, it marked his 33rd straight game to reach base safely, most in the American League this season.
“That’s what he does,” Wakamatsu said.
Bedard, now 4-2, got one out in the seventh before he wore down, but his 112 pitches were the most he has thrown since a 116-pitch marathon on Aug. 28, 2007, while with the Orioles.
Melvin Mora doubled one out into the second inning and Adam Jones led off the fourth with a double, but Bedard pitched out of those jams both times. By the time the Orioles pushed home a run in the seventh, the Mariners already had five of their own.
One game after Orioles left-hander Rich Hill held the Mariners to two hits and no runs, the Mariners popped right-hander David Hernandez and three relievers for 16 hits.
Nine of them were by the third, fourth and fifth hitters — Beltre, Griffey and Lopez.
Lopez, in fact, shattered what seemed like another here-we-go-again moment in the first inning. Suzuki and Branyan led off with back-to-back singles, followed by a popup by Beltre and a strikeout by Griffey. It was dark reminder of the first inning Monday night when Suzuki stood on third with nobody out and the Mariners let him wilt.
This time, Lopez drove a double to left field that scored both runners.
Then the Mariners pulled off something rarely seen but hardly unwanted.
They drove home two runners from third base on ground balls — Yuniesky Betancourt on a ground out in the third inning to make the score 3-0 and Lopez in the fifth.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Wakamatsu said. “We have to get better with runners at third base and less than two outs. We’ve got to get those guys in.”
It certainly was noticed by the starting pitcher. Unlike Jarrod Washburn the night before, Bedard got run support early and often, and he appreciated it.
“The big thing tonight was we scored runs,” he said. “We got guys over, we got guys in. That was the difference.”
And when Bedard finally faltered in the seventh, Sean White saved him like he’s done all season. White took over with the bases loaded and one out, and produced two straight ground balls, one that scored the Orioles’ first run.
White pitched a scoreless eighth, running his string of shutout innings to 14.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com\marinersblog