By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE – Lou Piniella sat behind his desk Friday afternoon spewing his vast knowledge of the stock market.
Now’s a good time to buy tech stocks, especially good companies, and you might look into a good mutual fund, said the man who would have become a stockbroker had this baseball thing not worked out.
Then someone broke the CNBC atmosphere with, of all things, a baseball question. “You guys have scored more runs in the first inning than any other inning. Why is that?”
Piniella thought about it and said, “I really don’t know.”
His team provided the answer a few hours later.
The Mariners put on an early rally that would make the NASDAQ proud, scoring four runs in the first inning, and then rode the two-hit pitching of Paul Abbott to a 10-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field.
The victory also carried some interesting sub-plots as the Mariners took another step toward the American League West Division title.
It all came so easily after yet another first-inning rally.
“You give a pitcher some runs to work with, it makes it easier,” Piniella said. “He pitched well. He made it hold up.”
Abbott, in his second start after missing a turn because of a slight groin pull, carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Brady Anderson dropped a one-out single into right-center field.
“A two-seam fastball,” Abbott said of the pitch. “I was trying to go away with it. It was down and away, but it was supposed to move more.”
Abbott retired the next seven Orioles, then threw a full-count pitch that Brian Roberts pounded into the right-field seats to stop the shutout.
Abbott got the last out in the eighth, watched from the bench as Jeff Nelson finished off the O’s in the ninth, then reflected on being a 15-game winner in his 17th professional season.
“I thought it would come a lot sooner,” said Abbott, who has endured a career filled with injuries. “Part of me is saying it’s about time. I’m older now but I’m not stronger. I’m smarter and healthier.”
Among the Mariner conquests was Cal Ripken Jr., the retiring star who got two standing ovations from the crowd of 45,797 and an 0-for-4 night at the plate.
The only time Abbott was in real trouble was the fourth inning, when he got a warning from plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
Abbott had thrown two knee-high pitches to Jeff Conine, then walked the Oriole on one behind his knees. They were an obvious rebuttal to a fastball that Orioles starter Jose Mercedes stuck in Mike Cameron’s backside in the bottom of the third on the first pitch after Boone had homered.
The victory was safely in Abbott’s pocket after the first inning, when the Mariners jumped on Mercedes for a 4-0 lead.
Suzuki got the first of his three hits, Edgar Martinez drew a walk, John Olerud drove in a run with a single off the right-field wall, Boone hit a sacrifice fly and Cameron lashed a two-run homer into the left-field seats.
Before Mercedes had worked up a sweat, the Mariners had four runs, giving them 110 runs in the first inning this season. They’ve scored 103 in both the third and eighth innings.
Boone, now with the American League home run record for second basemen, can swing for the major league mark: 42 by Rogers Hornsby in 1922.
“I’d have to get awful hot for that one,” Boone said. “That’s a long shot.”
Suzuki also seemed a long shot at the beginning of the season to accomplish what he has. He certainly never thought about setting the rookie singles record.
“At the time we started, I could not imagine what I would do,” he said. “I did not know there was such a record. But I could imagine that one better than I could imagine hitting 50 home runs.”