LOS ANGELES — The Mariners may be scrambling to catch the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers in the American League's Western Division, but they're running away with the National League West.
If only they could apply for an immediate transfer to the senior circuit, the Mariners would have a legitimate right to pennant fever.
With a reprieved Joel Pineiro justifying manager Mike Hargrove's decision to leave him in the rotation, and Adrian Beltre heating up in his return to L.A. with a homer and four runs, the Mariners stopped the Dodgers 9-4 at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.
The victory ran Seattle's interleague record — all against the NL West — to 7-0.
"I can't really explain it, but it's definitely nice to go 7-0," said Raul Ibanez, whose delayed dash to the plate on a short popup capped Seattle's scoring in the ninth. "It's nice to go 7-0 against anyone. There's a good feeling in the clubhouse right now. Everyone is pulling in the right direction."
It was the first matchup between the two finalists for the Mariners' managerial job in 2005, Hargrove (who got it) and Grady Little (hired this season by the Dodgers).
Hargrove has never been a fan of interleague play, but he's wavering. "I don't like the process, but I like the results," he said.
Winning pitcher: Joel Pineiro (6-7)
Losing pitcher: Brad Penny (7-2)
Tonight: Seattle at L.A. Dodgers, 7:10 p.m., FSN/KOMO (1000 AM)
Starting pitchers: M's Jarrod Washburn (4-8) vs. Chad Billingsley (0-0)
Following sweeps of the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, the Mariners knocked off another contender in that highly compacted division, buoyed by the power of ex-Dodger Beltre.
In his first game against the Dodgers since he signed a five-year, $64 million contract before last season, Beltre got the Mariners started with a two-run homer in the first inning off Brad Penny.
The cathartic hit, instantly easing the stress of his homecoming, followed a leadoff single by Ichiro that extended his hitting streak to 19 games — longest in the American League this season. Ichiro's 18-game streak from May 5 to May 24 was the previous longest.
Penny, the Dodgers' ace, brought a 7-1 record into the game and had allowed just one homer in his last 11 starts. But Beltre did what he had done so often in his 48-homer breakout year of 2004: He went deep to right-center.
"It felt good," Beltre told the large group of reporters that surrounded him after the game. "I went up there looking for a good pitch to hit; and when I made contact, I knew the ball was going somewhere."
He admitted that the return to his major-league home of seven seasons was emotional.
"I've had a lot of good memories in this park," he said. "That hit in the first inning took a lot of pressure off."
It was, in fact, a bountiful game for the Mariners' two big signees from last year.
Richie Sexson homered in the fifth inning, making this just the third time this year and the 10th time over the past two years that Beltre and Sexson had homered in the same game. The Mariners are 8-2 in those games.
Beltre also doubled and scored in the third, had a drive to the wall in right field that was hauled in by J.D. Drew, and scored twice after walks. Sexson had a team-high three of the Mariners' 13 hits. In fact, the first five hitters in the Mariners' lineup had 10 hits (including two homers and three doubles), scored eight and drove in eight.
"The whole team is doing better," Beltre said. "Hopefully, we can keep it up."
In their rightful division, meanwhile, the Mariners are making a slow but steady climb after winning for the 10th time in their last 14 games. They gained a game on both Oakland and Texas, co-leaders in the AL West, and are now 3 ½ games back in third place.
Pineiro, nearly pulled from the Mariners' rotation after getting shelled by Oakland in his last start — the latest in a growing line of poor outings — was markedly improved.
Not great, but improved. And having gone 1-5 with a 7.54 earned-run average in his last seven starts, there was much room for improvement. In 6-1/3 innings, Pineiro gave up 10 hits and four runs (three earned) to earn his sixth win.
Apparently stung by the speculation over his job status, Pineiro was terse with the media after the game and answered questions only briefly.
"You guys can write whatever you want, because obviously a lot of people have a lot of opinions about me, where I should be, what I should be doing," he said.
Hargrove confirmed that removing Pineiro from the rotation was discussed but said he concluded that "it wasn't the right time. We believe in Joel, and he went out and justified that belief."
Added Hargrove, "A manager has few chances to show loyalty, and you have to take them when you can. Joel is a valuable part of our team, and we need him to be in our rotation, plain and simple."
Said Pineiro: "I felt great. I went out and did my job. It was a great win. That's all I've got to say."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org