'Visiting' Mariners top 'home' Marlins, 5-1, at Safeco Field
The Mariners have been designated the visiting team in this series because a U2 concert in Miami forced the Marlins to move these games originally scheduled for their home ballpark.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mariners vs. Marlins at Safeco Field, 7:10 p.m., ROOT
Felix Hernandez wasn't about to begrudge his catcher for stealing his cheering section and at least one more at-bat from him.
Not when Miguel Olivo also spared Hernandez from having to take the mound again, with a pitch count of 117, to protect a slim Mariners lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. Things were tight until Olivo, getting thunderous cheers from Hernandez's King's Court cheering sections, belted a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to cap a 5-1 win over the Florida Marlins.
Hernandez's yellow-T-shirt-clad fans were at their noisy best all game long, especially in the ninth when they chanted "O-li-vo! Oh, oh!" throughout an eight-pitch at-bat by Olivo that preceded his home run. After the blast, Hernandez, who was due to hit that frame, was pulled for a pinch-hitter to end his night with two hits allowed over eight innings.
"The King's Court is awesome right now," Hernandez said of the section of fans who sit near the left-field bleachers and get a T-shirt with their ticket purchase on nights the Mariners ace takes the mound. "These days they're doing a pretty good job, I think."
Hernandez did a pretty good job himself, striking out 10 on a night his King's Court was clearly setting the tone atmosphere-wise in front of 15,279 fans at Safeco Field. The Mariners are the designated "road" team for this series, wearing their away jerseys and batting first after the Marlins were driven from their home stadium by a U2 concert scheduling conflict.
About the only mistake Hernandez made was bouncing a third-strike pitch to John Buck that should have ended the fourth inning. Instead, catcher Olivo failed to block the ball, then couldn't find it as a runner charged home from third.
But Hernandez kept his team in the game, even though he hit three batters and could not control his changeup all night long. The Mariners needed Hernandez at his best, because they were doing next to nothing against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco.
The offensive highlight of the first six innings for the Mariners was Hernandez notching his third career hit with a two-out single in the second.
Seattle had run its scoreless innings stretch up to 20 before Brendan Ryan used his legs to break the ice in seventh. With runners at the corners and none out, Ryan broke from third on contact as Justin Smoak grounded one to first baseman Gaby Sanchez.
Ryan was a dead duck at the plate, but then — as he did last month in San Diego — he hit the brakes and began sprinting back and forth between third and home in the ensuing rundown, buying time for both runners to advance. By the time Ryan was finally out, Adam Kennedy had gone from first to third and Smoak was at second.
Florida then walked Dustin Ackley to load the bases intentionally for Olivo, who grounded into a force play at third as the tying marker scored. Carlos Peguero then notched an infield single to load the bases again, and Franklin Gutierrez singled up the middle to score a pair for a 3-1 lead.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said the Ryan rundown was "a great job."
"That was really the difference in the ballgame right there," Wedge said. "Granted, we had to come through after that, and we did. Guys got some big hits there. But we put ourselves in a position there to make something happen."
Ryan was nonchalant about the whole thing, quipping that "it lasted about a minute and a half or so, because that's how long it takes for Smoakie to get to second."
The Mariners had scored four runs or more just four times in their last 16 games, and Wedge was prepared to send Hernandez back out in the ninth to protect the 3-1 lead, rather than use Brandon League. But then Olivo — stunned as anybody by the chanting of the King's Court throng — put things out of reach with his blast to left.
"They got me on," he said of the chanting. "I heard that and I said, 'Man, I can't strike out right here, they're really excited for me.' I'm glad I hit that ball and they cheered even more."
It wasn't the first time Olivo had heard the chant, an adaptation of chanting from a scene in "The Wizard of Oz" involving guards at the Castle of the Wicked Witch. The same chant was used by Olivo's teammate, Magglio Ordonez, as his intro music before at-bats when the pair played with the Chicago White Sox.
"It means a lot to me," Olivo said. "This the first time people have done that for me in my career."
And with more run support than any of his starters have received lately, Hernandez didn't mind sharing the spotlight — or his cheering section.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com
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