SEATTLE – There’s still a sense of caution over what’s happening with the Seattle Mariners in the first week of the season, but that hasn’t stopped them from feeling good about it.
After a third straight victory, 6-2 Thursday night at Safeco Field over the Oakland A’s, even manager Mike Hargrove is willing to concede this is a changed team.
The Mariners, who finished last in the American League in runs last year, are wearing out home plate in a comparative sense. They’ve scored 26 runs, second in the AL after four games to the Detroit Tigers’ 27.
“We’ve got 158 to play,” Hargrove said. “But it beats the alternative.”
Yes, it’s too early for their offensive numbers to be considered a pattern, but the Mariners’ method is showing their offensive personality.
“Everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do,” Hargrove said. “Guys around our big guys are getting on base and into scoring position, and our big guys are putting the ball in play and coming through. Everybody is doing their jobs offensively.”
Thursday, everyone in the lineup got at least one hit for the second time this season. Carl Everett hit a two-run homer in the second inning, when the Mariners overcame a 1-0 deficit to take a 3-1 lead.
Then they added on.
The M’s scored once in the third when Raul Ibanez tripled and scored on Adrian Beltre’s double-play grounder, once in the fifth on Kenji Johjima’s two-out RBI single and once in the sixth on Richie Sexson’s two-out single.
“Two-out hits to drive in runs are huge,” Hargrove said. “They are momentum killers to the other side.”
Speaking of momentum, look at the standings.
The Mariners have won three straight and sit alone atop the American League West Division for the first time since they won the season opener last year.
Besides the offense, the Mariners pulled off another victory with pitching.
Gil Meche dragged out his new repertoire and pitched well enough to beat the A’s, but labored to get past five innings because of a high pitch count.
Meche mixed more changeups and two-seam fastballs with the four-seam fastballs, curveballs and sliders he’d thrown before.
“It’s probably the least amount of fastballs I’ve ever thrown in a game,” he said.
The A’s didn’t exactly hammer Meche – scoring a run in the first on Marco Scutaro’s high-fly triple to the right-center field gap and one in the sixth when Eric Chavez cleared the wall in right-center with a home run.
All those runs did was trim the Mariners’ lead to 5-2, although Meche’s pitch count had run high. Chavez’s homer came on his 101st, and final, pitch.
“I had 70-some pitches after three and I knew I needed a couple of quick ones to at least be around for the fifth,” Meche said.
He recovered with 1-2-3 fourth and fifth innings.
“On the whole it was a good outing,” Hargrove said. “There were a lot of times when Gil over-threw and cost himself a higher pitch count early. But he seemed to settle down in the third, fourth and fifth, got the ball down and made pitches when he needed to.”
After Chavez’s homer with one out into the sixth inning, Hargrove turned to his bullpen, which had been pounded in the Mariners’ first three games.
This time, the relievers were solid.
Left-hander Jake Woods pitched the next 21/3 innings, allowing a hit and three walks, but didn’t give up a run.
J.J. Putz finished the eighth by getting Jay Payton on a grounder, then he struck out the side in the ninth, blazing a 96 mph fastball past Scutaro to end the game and record his first save.
“There’s a lot of differences with this club than last year,” Hargrove said. “There’s more outward energy. The club last year had energy, but it was more internal. Guys are expressing themselves more openly and there’s a camaraderie here that we didn’t have at all last year. All these are positive things, but I emphasize that it’s still early.”
But, as he also said, it beats the alternative.