SEATTLE — Through their successful month of May, the Seattle Mariners remained an anomaly as they won games despite an offense that averaged 3.4 runs per game.
Friday night, in a 7-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field, the Mariners continued to show that some things just mi
ght be turning around in addition to their record.
• Like their show of power. The Mariners hit three home runs — by Justin Smoak, Adam Kennedy and Miguel Olivo — one day after they hit four homers.
• Like Jason Vargas’ stellar pitching. He held the Rays to four hits in the first complete-game shutout of his career, an impressive comeback after early exits in his previous two starts. Vargas is 4-3 with a 3.96 earned run average.
• Like run support for Vargas. He entered the game with the backing of three runs per game, tied for the fifth-worst run support in the American League.
• And, if the Mariners win today, their penchant for winning series. A victory would clinch the Mariners’ sixth straight series victory, something they haven’t done since the 2001 season.
Friday night’s victory, the Mariners’ 30th this season, didn’t pull them any closer in the American League West — they remain second and 11⁄2 games behind the Texas Rangers, who won at Cleveland. But it contained the elements that will be necessary if they hope to stay in contention for the long haul — pitching, defense and more than three runs per game.
The Mariners have won 13 of their past 16 games, and the 15 runs Thursday and Friday was their best two-game output since 7-3 and 10-1 victories at Detroit in late April.
“It’s a culmination of everything that we’ve been talking about, that these guys have been working on behind the scenes,” manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s the conversations they’ve been having with each other or with (hitting coach Chris Chambliss), the work they’re doing in the cage. You like to see that trickle into (batting practice) and you like to see that work its way into the ballgame, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Vargas, who lasted only three innings Sunday against the Yankees, said the difference Friday was first-pitch strikes. He threw 20 to the 31 hitters he faced. Sunday against the Yankees, he was 7-for-18 before being lifted.
“Just getting ahead of hitters,” Vargas said. “I was throwing the changeup pretty good, getting ahead of them and getting outs early.”
With the Mariners comfortably ahead and Vargas having thrown only 103 pitches through eight innings, there was no question that he would work the ninth.
“We weren’t going to put him in a position where he was going to throw 125-130 pitches, but we were going to give him every opportunity to go back out there,” Wedge said.
Despite allowing two of the Rays’ four hits in the ninth, Vargas finished with 115 pitches.
“He’s had a couple of tough starts prior to this,” Wedge said. “But he’s been very consistent all year long. I love his temperament; he doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low. He understands what he needs to do to be successful, and he does a pretty good job making adjustments.”
Making adjustments, the Mariners say, also is a reason the offense has produced so well the past two games. They had seven hits, three of them home runs, and they drew six walks.
Smoak’s line-drive homer in the first inning was his 10th this season, and the Mariners scored three times despite only one hit, Olivo’s infield single, in the third when Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine hit a batter and walked three.
Kennedy’s two-run homer with two outs in the fifth and Olivo’s solo homer just two pitches later made the score 7-0.
“It’s definitely something we haven’t put together all season, that many home runs in two games,” Vargas said. “But it goes to show we can score runs a lot of different ways.”
The past two games, at least, that’s been true.