Russell Branyan's mammoth homer lifts Mariners back to .500 mark
With a 6-3 win over Baltimore, Seattle moves into a tie for second place in the AL West with the Angels.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mariners' next five games
Friday | @ Colorado, 6:10 p.m., FSN
Washburn (3-4, 3.07) vs. Jimenez (4-6, 3.91)
Saturday | @ Colorado, 5:10 p.m., FSN
Bedard (5-2, 2.47) vs. Marquis (8-4, 3.98)
Sunday | @ Colorado, 12:10 p.m., FSN
Vargas (2-1, 2.35) vs. Hammel (3-3, 4.33)
Tuesday | @ San Diego, 7:05 p.m., FSN
Hernandez (6-3, 3.06) vs. Correia (3-4, 4.80)
Wednesday | @ San Diego, 7:05 p.m., FSN
TBA vs. TBA
BALTIMORE — It was at an upbeat meeting of players and coaches after a series-opening loss here that the Mariners all agreed they had to be more aggressive.
No more passively taking strikes at the plate. Or standing still on the bases when balls were in play. The word out of that meeting was to turn up the screws a notch on the Baltimore Orioles' pitching, and that's what the Mariners did in a 6-3 win Thursday night.
It began with Ichiro tying his personal best by reaching base for a 40th consecutive game by drilling the first pitch he saw over the head of right fielder Nick Markakis after a 27-minute rain delay in the third inning. And it ended with a laughing Ken Griffey Jr. nearly overtaking lead runner Adrian Beltre as they scampered around the bases on a run-scoring double by Yuniesky Betancourt.
Throw in a towering, 450-foot home run by Russell Branyan, and the Mariners, finally back to .500 (30-30), served notice they might not be ready to call it a season just yet.
"We had a little meeting about trying to put pressure on these guys, be aggressive at the plate," Griffey said, the sounds of singing players wafting from the showers behind his locker. "Not one of those meetings where everybody points fingers at each other and goes 'It's your fault.' More of a meeting where we said, 'You're doing better, now let's keep it going.' "
That meeting took place on Wednesday afternoon, before the Mariners rallied to win the final two games here.
A crowd of only 12,260 fans at Camden Yards saw a different-looking Mariners team rebound from a slow start before the rain delay and completely take over.
Along with Branyan's homer, tying for the sixth-longest in this ballpark's history, not to mention a double and triple by Ichiro, came a rare five walks as well.
"That's what we've been talking about the last couple of days," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Being able to have good at-bats. We can talk about the hits and Russell Branyan's home run. But to me, it's the five walks. It's showing some patience at the plate. It's a step in the right direction."
And the walks resulted from the controlled aggression shown early, when the Mariners swung at pitches that were hittable. Later, when Orioles pitchers began nibbling, reluctant to come over the plate, the Mariners laid off and took their freebies.
"That was how we started off the season," said Griffey, who drew one of the walks in the seventh inning. "We started off that way."
After his walk, Griffey nearly ran over Beltre on the Betancourt double.
"The best part was, I got to yell at him," Griffey said of his words to Beltre during their sprint. "If you [media] guys sit up behind our dugout, you'd see he's yelling at everybody all game, telling them to do stuff."
The aggressive Mariners never let up on Orioles pitcher Koji Uehara once the rain delay ended. Baltimore led 2-0 on a first-inning homer by Luke Scott off starter Garrett Olson, but Ichiro turned the momentum immediately on a first-pitch double that left runners at second and third.
Branyan and Beltre then singled to tie the score, and Jose Lopez delivered a sacrifice fly to put Seattle ahead to stay.
Olson had thrown 56 pitches in two innings before the delay and had his team so worried that they canceled Ryan Rowland-Smith's scheduled start in Class AAA Tacoma — fearing he'd be needed if the bullpen was burned. But Olson rebounded to throw three scoreless frames after the delay, meaning Rowland-Smith will start for Tacoma today and no immediate moves are planned.
Branyan's home run effectively put the game out of reach, considering Seattle's pitching has gone nine straight games allowing three runs or fewer.
"I hit it real good and it felt good," Branyan said of his shot, which cleared the fence in straightaway center and landed about 20 rows deep.
But what felt even better — as this three-city road trip moves on to Colorado, then San Diego — was his team moving into a second-place tie with the Los Angeles Angels.
"It was very important," Branyan said of the win. "We're playing three teams that we are competitive with."
They'll have to be a bit more than just competitive if they want to keep moving up.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
Read his daily blog at seattletimes.com/mariners
For the record
v. AL West: 13-14
vs. L.A.: 7-6
vs. Oakland: 6-3
vs. Texas: 0-5
vs. AL East: 8-4
vs. AL Cent.: 7-11
vs. NL: 2-1
vs. LHP: 10-8
vs. RHP: 20-22
Extra inn.: 4-3
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 8:27 PM
Catcher Gregg Zaun retires after 16 seasons
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