By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE — Baseball history came as easily to the Seattle Mariners as hitting a hanging curveball over the heart of the plate.
The Mariners feasted on hanging curves, belt-high fastballs and just about any other pitch the Texas Rangers threw to win their 114th game of the season Thursday night.
In beating the Rangers 16-1, the Mariners tied the 1998 New York Yankees’ American League record for victories in a season.
"A hundred and fourteen wins," said manager Lou Piniella, clearly emotional as he savored one of the most impressive numbers ever in baseball. "I’m proud of these guys. They play hard every night."
The ‘98 Yankees finished 114-48, and the Mariners have three more regular-season games — all against the Rangers — to grab the record for their own.
"We’ll do our best to go by them this weekend," Piniella said.
With the Rangers in town, that shouldn’t be a problem. The Mariners also are on course to break the all-time record of 116 victories held by the 1906 Chicago Cubs.
If the Mariners faced the Rangers pitching staff every day, the ‘06 Cubs wouldn’t stand a chance.
The Mariners pounded six Texas pitchers for 19 hits and piled up runs like a slow-pitch softball team. They scored four in the first inning, two in the second, two in the third, four in the fourth, one in the seventh and three in the eighth.
Piniella then laid out some scary news.
"We’ll get (David) Bell back and we’ll get Edgar (Martinez) off the suspended list tomorrow," Piniella said.
Thursday night’s barrage included the tiniest of hits by Ichiro Suzuki and the biggest of blasts by Jay Buhner.
Suzuki’s bunt in the second inning rolled slowly up the third-base line and started to curl foul before it hit a clod of dirt and stayed fair. It was Suzuki’s only hit of the game, but an important one. He has 240 hits this season to extend his rookie record, and tie him with Darrin Erstad (2000) and Wade Boggs (985) for most hits in the majors since 1930. Suzuki is hitting .351 and has a nine-point lead over Oakland’s Jason Giambi in the race for the AL batting championship.
Buhner, who spent seven months recovering from a foot injury, replaced Suzuki in the sixth inning and hit his first home run of the season in the eighth, a two-run blast over the center field fence.
"It’s supposed to be like that more often," said Buhner, who endured 40 at-bats this season before he produced a home-run swing. "Hopefully that’ll get things going for me. I’ve come close a couple of times and I’ve been wondering when it was going to happen. It’s nice to get it off my shoulders."
Some key role players continued to swing impressively as they tune up for the postseason.
Shortstop Mark McLemore, playing his first game in a week after hurting his left knee, had three hits and drove in three runs.
Backup catcher Tom Lampkin, who has struggled most of the season to keep his average above .200, smacked two-run doubles in the first and fourth innings and finished 2-for-4. Lampkin has gone 8-for-18 in his last five games and is batting .225.
Al Martin, the one-time left fielder whose injured elbow has limited him to nothing but hitting, filled in admirably at designated hitter as Martinez completed his two-day suspension for charging the mound Tuesday in Anaheim. Martin reached base his first four times up and finished with three hits, two RBI and three runs scored.
Ramon Vazquez, the minor-league callup who may get some important playing time in the postseason because of the illness to Carlos Guillen, showed a hot bat and a slick glove from a position he hasn’t played all year.
Starting at third base for the first time since winter ball in Puerto Rico last January, Vazquez made a first-inning error on a tough one-hopper but made up for it with a 2-for-5 night at the plate that included RBI singles in the third and fourth innings.
Six Texas pitchers felt the Mariners’ wrath, including one who woke up today with a Rawlings imprint on his right shin. Martin lashed a one-hopper that caromed off reliever Justin Duchscherer for a base hit in the fourth inning. Duchscherer had to be carted off the field, but X-rays revealed only a severe bruise.
Reliever Mike Venafro was the only Texas reliever to retire the Mariners in order, in the sixth inning after Seattle had built a 12-1 lead.
The Rangers, the AL’s third-best hitting team behind Seattle and Cleveland, got only one good swing against Mariners starter Brett Tomko.
Alex Rodriguez, the former Mariner who continued to hear a smattering of boos, pounced his 52nd home run of the season in the third inning to set a little history of his own. It was Rodriguez’s 200th hit of the season, making him the fourth player in AL history to get at least 200 hits and 50 home runs in the same season.
Tomko allowed just four hits in five innings, his first start for the Mariners since April 18 and his first start since being recalled from Class AAA Tacoma on Sept. 14. John Halama pitched three perfect innings of relief and Jose Paniagua got the Rangers 1-2-3 in the ninth to complete the job.
"We’ve got three more games," said Piniella, who must balance his pursuit of single-season victory records with the job of getting all his players sharp for the playoffs next week.
It looks like he’s getting both jobs done.
"The important thing," he said, "is that everything is starting to come together for the postseason."