By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE – Amid injuries and illness and no clear idea who’s going to play on the left side of the infield, there are signs that the Seattle Mariners are reaching their October form.
The Mariners beat the Oakland A’s 6-3 Sunday at Safeco Field to win two of the three games against Oakland and leave at least a subliminal message in the A’s minds should the two teams advance in the first round of the playoffs and meet in the ALCS.
“We’re at home and we wanted to play well against them,” Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. “But when the postseason starts, it’s a whole new ballgame. It was nice to win two of three here, but if we meet in the postseason, you can throw all this away.”
Well, not all of it.
Besides a victory that gave the Mariners a final 10-9 edge in the season series against Oakland – and despite an injury to David Bell and tuberculosis suffered by Carlos Guillen that leaves both questionable going into the playoffs – some important elements are coming together.
Edgar Martinez is stinging every ball he takes a swing at.
The offense is forcing opponents into mistakes that turn into runs.
The defense doesn’t crack, despite a lineup Sunday that included a rookie at shortstop and a seldom-used utility player at third.
And Aaron Sele is pitching like a guy who has long passed whatever caused him to struggle in July and August.
Sele allowed just three hits and a run in seven innings and had pitched to the minimum number of hitters before Mike Cameron was blinded by the sun and lost a routine fly that fell for a double with one out in the seventh.
“He’s really getting sharp right when we need it,” Piniella said of Sele, who struck out eight and didn’t walk a hitter.
Sele, 15-5, has won his last two starts after going 1-4 with five no-decisions since mid-July. He said he solved a few wrinkles with his delivery during the layoff after the terrorist attacks in September.
“(Pitching coach) Bryan Price and I had a chance to work on a couple of things,” said Sele, who became just the third pitcher (along with Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson) to win at least 15 games in each of the last four seasons. “A little rhythm and tempo. I’m happy with the way I’ve thrown the ball and repeated quality pitches.”
With Sele stopping the A’s offense, the Mariners got theirs going against Oakland starter Tim Hudson despite a bottom third of the order that didn’t impress anyone with its numbers.
Rookie Ramon Vazquez started at shortstop, backup Tom Lampkin caught and Charles Gipson played third to comprise a 7-8-9 combination that had a collective .199 batting average entering Sunday.
Vazquez and Lampkin each had two hits, Gipson dropped a sacrifice bunt, and Gipson and Lampkin coaxed the A’s into two of their three errors when the Mariners scored twice in the seventh inning to cushion a three-run lead.
Lampkin, a left-handed hitter who Piniella needs to produce in the playoffs, had two hits for the second straight game and raised his average14 points, to .217, in that time.
“That’s one of the positives,” Piniella said. “We’ve been a team that utilizes the whole roster. It’s important that the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters do some things offensively.”
Combined with the production the M’s got from the top of the order, they had no problems Sunday.
Leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki extended his rookie hits record to 235 in the fifth inning with his eighth home run of the season.
Martinez had two hits and scored twice, giving him five hits, four RBI and a home run in the two games he played against the A’s this weekend.
John Olerud continued his hot hitting of late with two hits, including his 20th home run in the fourth inning that gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead.
And Bret Boone continued his career year with a first-inning single that gave him 200 hits for the season.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “First and foremost, to have RBI is always what it’s about in this game because the object is to score runs. But to get 200 hits, I’ve never come close so to do that is pretty special.”