By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The transition that Eric Wedge insisted would come may have begun — all those young Seattle Mariners hitters seem to be growing up.
“We’re not the same team today that we were when this trip began,” Wedge said.
Capping a tough nine-game stretch, the Mariners came from behind to beat the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday, 8-6, winning the series and finishing their trip 5-4.
Seattle’s offense scored eight times with two outs, and the Mariners relief pitching bordered on the spectacular — especially rookie Stephen Pryor in the sixth and seventh innings.
Can a team change in the span of nine games?
“This trip was a big step for this club,” Wedge said. “We found ways to win games against some good teams, with everybody contributing. There were a lot of hard-fought games, and the guys stepped up again and again.”
The Mariners faced off with American League West rivals Texas and Los Angels and took two of three games from each. That doesn’t mean they’re suddenly contenders.
It does mean the Mariners believe they can beat anyone.
And why not? The Angels were a team on a roll when Seattle arrived, and the Mariners took two of three on the strength of an offense that piled up hits and runs.
And those young Mariners hitters?
Kyle Seager had two key hits, a single and double — both with two outs — to drive in four runs and now leads the team in RBI (36) and two-out RBI (22).
Michael Saunders had his second consecutive three-hit game and scored twice, and had five three-hit games on the trip. His batting average (XXX) is now the highest on the team.
Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero each had a pair of hits and Mike Carp walked and had a two-run single.
Even the Mariners elder statesman — Ichiro Suzuki — snapped out of the second-longest slump of his career with two hits, including his fourth home run of 2012.
“It was good to see Ichiro get himself going again,” Wedge said. “The RBI single was a big hit for us and his home run made a one-run lead a two-run lead.”
The Mariners knew coming in they might need a lot of runs. With Felix Hernandez on the shelf with a tight lower back, Hector Noesi had volunteered to start on three days rest.
He struggled all night, allowing six runs on four hits — and four of the runners who scored were among the five batters Noesi walked.
The Mariners had given Noesi a 2-0 lead and he’d lost it. When he fell behind, 4-2, the Mariners came back to tie in the fifth inning.
And Noesi walked the first two Angels he faced in the bottom half of that inning, and Seattle was soon trailing again, 6-4.
Discouraged? Not these Mariners.
A three-run sixth inning turned on an RBI single from Suzuki, which broke an 0-for-20 stretch, and a two-run single from Seager.
With the bullpen forced to work the last five innings, Wedge went to Shawn Kelley, rookie Stephen Pryor, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen.
“We had some tight situations tonight, and Pryor has had a couple of them since coming up,” Wedge said. “He got through it again tonight.”
Wilhelmsen got the ninth inning again and faced the top of the Angels lineup. Mike Trout flied out, Maicer Izturis grounded out, Albert Pujols doubled.
That brought the potential tying run to the plate, the left-handed designated hitter Kendry Morales.
Wilhelmsen struck him out on four pitches for the second save of his career.
When this began, the Mariners were coming off a three-game sweep by the Angels and a loss the first game on the road gave Seattle a five-game losing streak and a 21-30 record.
They’ll enjoy an off-day today with a 26-33 record, good for third place in the American League West, 31/2 games behind the second-place Angels.
The Mariners are now 17-20 on the road.
“We haven’t hit as well at home but the truth is we haven’t been at home much this season,” Wedge said, and he had a point. On Seattle’s first 59 games, 37 have been played on the road.
“These kids will hit better at home than they have. They’ll take a day off (today), spend time with family, get away from the game and come back a bit refreshed Friday,” Wedge said.
“They’re a better team than they were when they left Seattle.”