Ninth-inning rally allows M’s to walk off smiling

  • By Kirby Arnold / Herald Writer
  • Sunday, June 6, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – In a death grip only their own struggling offense could apply, something completely uncommon happened to the Seattle Mariners on Sunday.

They got runners on base and moved them into scoring position, they pulled off a double steal and manufactured not just a run, but also a come-from-behind victory.

After eight frustrating innings of getting close to home plate but barely touching it, the Mariners scored three runs in the ninth inning to beat the Chicago White Sox 5-4 at Safeco Field.

“We kept battling,” Mariners starting pitcher Jamie Moyer said. “You get the right guys in the right situations with the right pitcher on the mound, you win.”

Indeed, nothing could have gone more right for the Mariners than the ninth inning, when they got three hits, stole four bases and drew two walks, including Jolbert Cabrera’s bases-loaded free pass to win the game.

“I haven’t had this feeling in a long time,” second baseman Bret Boone said.

It was the Mariners’ second victory this season after trailing through eight innings, the other one happening April 11 when they scored two runs in the ninth and five in the 10th to beat Oakland 9-4.

Since then, there’s been little but frustration from an offense that has failed to move runners and make much of its scoring opportunities.

Through eight innings Sunday, that hadn’t changed.

The Mariners had extra-base hits with less than two outs in six straight innings, but scored just twice, on John Olerud’s ground out in the fifth and Randy Winn’s 431-foot homer in the seventh that bounced high off the restaurant windows in right field.

Trailing 4-2 following inning after inning of missed scoring opportunities against White Sox starter Esteban Loaiza, the Mariners found that closer Billy Koch was the missing link to a rally.

Koch’s first hitter, Hiram Bocachica, grounded out to shortstop.

But Ichiro Suzuki singled to left field, stole second and scored when Winn doubled with the last of his four hits. Winn stole third, Olerud drew a walk and manager Bob Melvin put speed on the bases by inserting Willie Bloomquist as a pinch runner for Olerud.

“We knew we were going to be aggressive if we could get some guys on against (Koch),” Melvin said. “He’s slow to the plate and command is an issue at times with him, too.”

Boone, whose double in the fourth and walk in the seventh continued to show he is climbing out of a season-long slump, pushed a single into right field that scored Winn to tie the score 4-4.

With Edgar Martinez batting, Bloomquist and Boone pulled off a successful double steal, which put runners at second and third with one out.

With first base suddenly open, Koch intentionally walked Martinez to load the bases and face a free-swinging hitter, Cabrera, who had drawn just one walk – and that was intentional – in 105 plate appearances this season. Cabrera fouled off a 1-0 pitch, then took three straight balls from Koch to draw the game-winning walk, just his 52nd in 1,119 career plate appearances.

None of it would have been possible without a buckle-down effort by Moyer in the fourth inning. The White Sox started with four straight hits, plus a sacrifice bunt that put runners at second and third with one out and a huge rally in progress. Moyer held them to two runs by striking out Willie Harris and Carlos Lee.

“He got us out of an inning when it looked like it was going to get ugly,” Melvin said.

Moyer worked a perfect fifth inning, but his pitch count had reached 101. Ron Villone pitched the next 22/3 innings, nicked only by Lee’s two-out single in the seventh and a pitch that hit Aaron Rowand in the eighth.

Winn, who started his second straight game in left field, cut the deficit to 3-2 with his long home run in the seventh, but the White Sox made it 4-2 in the eighth when Shigetoshi Hasegawa gave up a two-out single to Sandy Alomar that scored Rowand.

Hasegawa worked a perfect ninth, striking out Harris and Frank Thomas, and he became a winner for the second time this season when the Mariners rallied in the ninth.

His first victory?

April 11 in the comeback at Oakland, when the Mariners were just one week into a season and still had hope. After that victory, they were three games out of first place in the American League West.

Today, the Mariners are 11 behind Anaheim and thrilled with any silver lining they can get.

“To come back in the ninth inning off a first-place team like that, hopefully that’s something we can build on,” Melvin said.

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