Just as it was too early a little while ago to start worrying too much, Mariners manager Mike Hargrove cautioned reporters that it's too early now to start getting too excited.
But he had better tell that to his first baseman, Richie Sexson, who sounded just like any other fan after the Mariners beat Baltimore 7-4 Wednesday night in front of 21,991 at Safeco Field to climb within two games of first place in the American League West.
"It's fun, isn't it?" Sexson asked. "I haven't done this for so long. It's made some of the individual things I've gone through [early in the season] disappear because we are in a race, and that's the most important thing.
"I told the guys, 'Just keep us close, and once I get going I'll make us better.' "
Sexson did his part Wednesday, driving in three runs as the Mariners jumped to a 7-0 lead after two innings.
And while the offense went into hibernation from there, the early runs were enough for Seattle to win thanks in part to a standout performance by rookie Sean Green, who pitched 2-1/3 innings of hitless relief. Green took over for starter Jarrod Washburn, who gave up four runs in 5-2/3 innings. Green's performance was critical, as the bullpen was weary after getting a lot of use of late.
J.J. Putz, pitching for the fifth time in the past six games, then came on to strike out the side in the ninth as the Mariners showed no ill effects from the ugly loss the night before, when they gave up nine runs in the ninth inning to lose 14-4.
Jarrod Washburn (3-5)
Kris Benson (6-4)
at Seattle, 1:35 p.m., KOMO 1000 AM
Starting pitchers: M's Gil Meche (4-2) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (1-7)
Inside: The first inning has not been kind to the Mariners this season
"To come back the way we did tonight was very important and said a lot about our team," Hargrove said.
Cynics will point out that Seattle is as close as it is only because the AL West race is more sordid than torrid — Texas is in the lead at just 23-23. But however they have gotten there, it's the closest to first place the Mariners have been since April 21, and the closest this late in any season since 2003.
And a little enthusiasm is a far cry from what the Mariners were generating a week ago when they arrived home from Oakland, having been swept by the A's to fall a season-high eight games under .500.
But the Mariners appear transformed since a 57-minute team meeting following the final loss in Oakland, having gone 5-1 since then.
"It just seems like there's a different attitude in the clubhouse," Washburn said. "Some attitudes changed, is the easiest way to say it."
The Mariners, up 1-0, pounded out six hits in the second off Baltimore's Kris Benson, who had thrown a complete-game win against Washington in his last outing.
The big hits: a double by Yuniesky Betancourt that drove in two after it got by Baltimore left fielder Jeff Conine; a ground-rule double by Ichiro that extended his hitting streak to 18 games; and a double down the third-base line by Sexson, who has seven RBI in three games.
"Richie seems to be swinging the bat better," Hargrove said.
It was an unfamiliar bounty for Washburn, who came into the game having received the third-lowest run support among American League starters — 21 runs in nine starts.
And maybe that's why he struggled, allowing a two-run homer to Melvin Mora in the third, and another two-run homer to Javy Lopez in the fifth as Baltimore slowly closed the gap.
"My command was just off today," Washburn said.
Washburn left the game with two outs in the sixth inning, with Mora at the plate as the potential tying run. But Green struck out Mora swinging after falling behind 3-1. He then retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth before turning it over to Putz, who bounced back nicely from his role in Tuesday's debacle.
It all made Sexson eager, for once, to pick up the paper and look at the standings.
"We've always believed we were better than we were playing there for a while," Sexson said. "We had a tough stretch in Oakland. But we bounced back and showed what we are made of."
For the record
W/L streak: W-1
At home: 14-14
On the road: 8-12
vs. AL West: 6-10
vs. Angels: 4-2
vs. Oakland: 1-6
vs. Texas: 1-2
vs. AL East: 7-6
vs. AL Cent.: 6-10
vs. NL: 3-0
vs. LHP: 5-11
vs. RHP: 17-15
1-run games: 3-8
Tuesday's crowd: 21,991
Overall attendance: 736,773
Season avg. (28 games): 26,313
Biggest crowd: 45,515
Smallest crowd: 16,102
2005 avg. (28 games): 33,496
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