By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Jason Vargas was brilliant, the Seattle Mariners maxed out what four hits can do and still the Detroit Tigers were left talking to themselves Wednesday night about a player batting .157.
Brendan Ryan, shortstop.
Playing what his manager called an “unbelievable” game, Ryan stole hits from Detroit all night, started the key double play in the ninth inning and helped the Mariners end their home stand with a 2-1 victory over the Tigers.
“Taking a hit away from someone is 10 times better than getting one,” Ryan said. “The way Vargas was pitching, you just want to make every play behind him. He was great tonight.”
Vargas became a four-game winner by working eight innings and allowing one run, not walking a batter and striking out six. After 90 pitches, he was prepared to work the ninth, but wasn’t asked.
Not after the Mariners scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“Detroit had the top of the order coming up again,” manager Eric Wedge said. “It was time to give the ball to Brandon League.”
League closed it for his eighth save, aided by a sprawling stop of a Brennan Boesch grounder by Ryan.
“No offense to Brandon, but that’s the hardest ball I’ve had hit at me all season,” Ryan said.
If the Mariners defense was stellar, the offense was … well, Mariners-like. Against Detroit lefty Drew Smiley and two relievers, Seattle managed four hits — two singles and two doubles.
Ichiro Suzuki singled one out into the fourth inning, his 2,467th career hit. The significance? It moved him into 100th place, all-time, on baseball’s hit-list. With two outs, Suzuki stole second base.
“That stolen base changed the inning,” Kyle Seager said. “All of a sudden, all I needed was a single to get him home.”
Seager doubled off the right field wall for his 20th RBI, and his 13th with two outs. It put the Mariners ahead 1-0.
Detroit matched that in the sixth inning with a three-hit flurry, and into the eighth inning it stayed tied.
Pinch-hitting for Casper Wells, Michael Saunders fell behind in the count, then slapped an opposite field ground ball for a inning-opening double. No. 9 hitter Chone Figgins bunted Saunders to third base, bringing up catcher and leadoff hitter for the night, John Jaso.
“He’s a hitter who knows what he wants to do in that situation, who has a plan,” Wedge said.
Jaso had a plan.
“I wouldn’t say I thrive in that situation, but I’ve taught myself to do what I do,” Jaso said. “You take a nasty breaking ball, then a fastball on the black and you’re down 0-2., it can’t bother you.
“I tell myself to stay focused, to wait for the pitch you want to swing at.”
When he got it, Jaso lined a single over the drawn-in Detroit infield, scoring Saunders for the 2-1 lead.
Wedge called in League.
A crowd of 15,655 didn’t seem certain they approved — many of them wanted to see Vargas finish what he’d started. When League walked the first batter he faced, there were boos, and only some of them were for the umpire.
Still League hasn’t put together a 2.25 earned run average for nothing, and his ability to get ground balls is inarguable. What followed was only technically a ground ball.
Boesch hit a line drive up the middle that Ryan gloved on his knees. When the ball trickled from his glove, he flipped to second base and Seager, who turned the pivot and got the double play.
It was the last of a handful of fine fielding plays he turned in, including two to steal hits from Prince Fielder.
“It’s fun to get a reaction from guys like Prince,” Ryan said.
It’s almost as much fun if you’re Vargas.
“I can’t say enough about the defense tonight, they played great behind me,” Vargas said. “I think Brendan Ryan gets overlooked at times.”
Vargas was brilliant early and had trouble in one of his eight innings. Over the first five innings, he faced 16 batters — one over the minimum.
“My fastball was in the strike zone and I had the best changeup I’ve had all season,” Vargas said. “Both Smyly and I were working quick innings, so I stayed in rhythm.
“Obviously, I wanted the complete game, but Brandon has been pitching great, too.”
The win was Seattle’s fifth of the season in its last at-bat, the second of its three-game series with Detroit. It pulled the Mariners record to 15-18 a day before the team embarks on a 10-game, four-city trip.