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Originally published Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Jarrod Washburn fights cramp, leads Mariners to 4-2 victory

After giving up two first-inning runs, Jarrod Washburn retired eight in a row at one point and had nine strikeouts as the crowd of 19,582 at Safeco Field saw him improve to 3-0 with a 1.71 earned-run average.

Seattle Times staff reporter

This was one gift Jarrod Washburn wasn't about to pass up, no matter how much his side was hurting.

Washburn has spent the past four years watching wins go by the wayside as teammates failed to come through at the plate. No American League pitcher has received worse run support since the start of the 2005 season and Washburn had seen his teams score two runs or fewer in 58 of his 120 outings over that time period.

So, after confused-looking Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Gabe Kapler spent Tuesday night's fourth inning gift-wrapping all the runs Seattle needed for an eventual 4-2 win, an ecstatic Washburn wasn't about to let a little cramp get in the way. The training staff was out on the mound in the fifth inning, but a cramping-up Washburn pushed them away and finished that frame.

Even then, with his regulation game in the books and qualifying for the victory, Washburn didn't stop. Instead, he went out and pitched two more scoreless innings and earned respect from the guys in his dugout.

"In the fifth inning, he was grabbing his side," Mariners first baseman Mike Sweeney said. "Many people would have gotten through the fifth, just shut it down and said 'Bullpen go get them!'

"But he went out there for two more innings and really showed the heart of a lion tonight. And that's what this team is about. Fighting for each other. Guys feed off that. When they see the starter going out there every fifth day, not just five and dive, and playing through injury, it means a lot."

After giving up two first-inning runs, Washburn retired eight in a row at one point and had nine strikeouts as the crowd of 19,582 at Safeco Field saw him improve to 3-0 with a 1.71 earned-run average. His 103-pitch outing had Rays manager Joe Maddon raving about how Washburn had "reinvented" himself with some devastating breaking balls — sliders mostly — that had opposing hitters flailing at air.

Sweeney drove in Seattle's first run in the bottom of the first and would later play a key role in the fourth-inning offensive surge that decided the game. After being hit by a pitch from Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine, Sweeney later went from first-to-third on a well-executed hit-and-run single to left field by Jose Lopez.

That left runners at the corners, none out, with Rob Johnson at the plate and center fielder Kapler positioned like a wandering second baseman. The Rays like to position all of their outfielders shallow, but Kapler was subbing for the injured B.J. Upton and is not quite his equivalent on the speed front.

No one was arguing that point when Johnson promptly lined a ball well over Kapler's head for a triple to bring two runs home and put the Mariners in front 3-2. Moments later, Yuniesky Betancourt skied a ball to the warning track in center that a sprinting Kapler was also unable to prevent from becoming a second triple in a row and another run.

Kapler saved himself from the shallow-playing Trifecta — and another run against — two batters later, when he made an all-out diving catch of an otherwise routine Endy Chavez fly ball. The outfielder said later that he hesitated on the Johnson triple and didn't get a good break.

Washburn improved to 12-3 lifetime against the Rays.

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"I knew I had good stuff," he said. "Especially with three lefties in the [Rays] lineup, my slider was working real good tonight. And I was really hitting that spot down and away to them. So, they couldn't just sit on the slider."

Each new victory by Washburn, so hard for him to come by previously, is providing him some baseball moments he doubted he'd ever feel again in the Emerald City.

"It's been a while," he said. "I don't want to think about the past. I just want to worry about what we're doing here. We've got a great thing going."

And the more Washburn pitches like this, the longer that thing is likely to last.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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