By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — And here, on Fedora Night at Safeco Field, the Mariners’ brass got an up-close look, courtesy of the Detroit Tigers, at the benefit of finding an impact bat to put behind Robinson Cano in their lineup.
That Cano wasn’t actually in Friday’s lineup, due to a sore hand, didn’t help (of course), in a 6-3 loss, but the point holds. (And Cano could be back as soon as Saturday night.)
If general manager Jack Zduriencik can locate that bat — no sure thing — the cost of acquiring it could be viewed as an investment by chairman/CEO Howard Lincoln and anyone else controlling the Mariners’ purse.
Because the difference Friday, in a marquee pitching match-up between Hisashi Iwakuma and Detroit’s Justin Verlander, was the Tigers had Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
Key word, that “and.”
“Those two guys in the middle of the order …,” catcher Mike Zunino said, “I mean, nobody wants to face those two guys.”
Cabrera was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, he became the first Triple Crown winner in 43 years, and he was the AL’s batting champion in each of the last three years.
It was Cabrera, with a two-run moonshot in the third inning, who opened scoring. So when he came to the plate in the fifth, with a runner on second and two outs, the Mariners opted for an intentional walk.
“I was trying to win a game,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It’s that simple. It didn’t work.”
The game was tied at this point, thanks to a two-run homer in the fourth by Kyle Seager against Verlander after Justin Smoak drew a one-out walk. That was, by the way, pretty much Verlander’s lone hiccup in 7 2/3 innings.
Anyway…the walk to Cabrera brought up Martinez, who currently leads the AL in batting. Martinez extended Iwakuma to 10 pitches by fouling off five consecutive 2-2 offerings.
“I’ve never seen a player,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, “who has the concentration every single pitch that Victor has on a nightly basis.
“The only time I see his concentration go up even higher is when he sees someone get walked in front of him.”
Martinez sent the 10th pitch, a hanging slider, into the right-field seats. The Tigers led 5-2 and this game, effectively, was over.
“Obviously, you want to get ahead with a hitter like that,” Iwakuma said. “You want to use all of your pitches, and I did. I think I did pretty well until that last pitch.”
It was, simply, a fabulous at-bat by Martinez against an All-Star pitcher with two outs in a tie game after an intentional walk took the bat away from the two-time MVP.
“Earlier in my career,” Martinez said, “I would get pretty mad if managers would walk a hitter to get to me. But being mad, I would swing at everything.
“I understand now. If I am a manager, I take the same chance. I would walk Miggy to pitch to myself. Miggy is the best hitter in the game, and you can’t let the best hitter beat you.”
Instead, Martinez did it.
“It was a great at-bat,” Zunino said. “It was all off-speed, except we threw one fastball, and he fouled it straight back like he was sitting on that the whole time.
“He keeps himself in at-bats, and he kept himself in there long enough to get a mistake, and he put a good swing on it.”
Verlander (6-4) rebounded from three straight shaky starts by, except for that one swing by Seager, strangling a Cano-less lineup. He yielded just five hits in 7 2/3 innings while striking out seven and walking one.
Ian Kroll replaced Verlander after James Jones’ two-out single in the eighth, threw a wild pitch and yielded an RBI double to Michael Saunders. That run was charged to Verlander.
Joba Chamberlain pitched the ninth for his second save.
Iwakuma (3-2) entered the game with streaks of 16 scoreless innings against the Tigers and 48 2/3 scoreless innings against American League Central Division opponents.
Those streaks lasted until the third inning.
Torii Hunter sent a two-out hopper back through the middle for a single, and Cabrera followed by annihilating a first-pitch fastball. Enough so that he could admire it from the plate as it soared over the left-field wall.
“I wanted to go up and in, tight,” Iwakuma said, “but he got to that pitch. That’s where I wanted to put it. I’ve pitched to him many times in the past, and I’ve located that pitch there, and I was able to get outs.
“But today, he got to that pitch. You look at him, and he’s a monster.”
And two monsters are better than one.