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Originally published April 18, 2012 at 10:14 PM | Page modified April 19, 2012 at 7:05 PM

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Little guys show home run power as Mariners win, 4-1

Chone Figgins and Ichiro hit home runs as the Mariners win before their smallest home crowd ever at Safeco Field — just 11,343.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Cleveland @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports

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Chone Figgins didn't know quite what to make of a first inning abnormality his Mariners aren't likely to see again for quite some time.

Figgins hitting a home run is a rare sight, but having Ichiro duplicate the feat in the exact same inning should tell the opposing pitcher it won't be his night. And it wasn't much of one for Derek Lowe of the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday after Figgins and Ichiro paced Seattle to a 4-1 victory by both going deep in the first inning.

Just as rare as seeing the two singles-hitters going yard simultaneously will be locating anyone who actually saw it in person. The smallest Mariners home crowd in Safeco Field history, 11,343, turned out on a night the Mariners blitzed a quality starting pitcher both early and often.

"For some reason, his ball was running more and not sinking," Figgins said of Lowe, who had entered 2-0 with a 1.98 earned-run average. "Usually it's sinking straight down and tonight it looked like it was kind of running.

"That makes it a little easier to hit."

Figgins' previous home run came on opening day of last season and his only other one in a Mariners uniform came in July 2010.

This was his first home run at Safeco Field and he's now the first player except Ichiro to lead off a game by going deep for the Mariners since Rickey Henderson in 2000.

"Ichi's went a lot further than mine," Figgins quipped with a laugh.

Both home runs flew out to right center — Ichiro's on the second pitch and the one by Figgins in an eight-pitch at-bat with the count full.

The Mariners added to the lead in the second inning when Jesus Montero was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

Seattle drew six walks off Lowe and seven total in the game, compiling enough of a lead for starter Jason Vargas to breeze through seven relatively problem-free innings. The only serious hurdle for Vargas came in the sixth, when the Indians loaded the bases with one out.

But Vargas struck out Shelley Duncan, then got former Mariners infielder Jose Lopez to ground into a broken-bat fielder's choice. The Mariners were ready to pull Vargas had Duncan gotten on.

"I figured he was going to be aggressive, especially since I was going to have to come right at him with the bases loaded," Vargas said. "I was able to get him to swing at a changeup out of the zone and that was a big out."

Vargas pitched through the seventh, scattering four hits and striking out seven. His only run allowed came after Aaron Cunningham led off the third inning in controversial fashion, driving a ball off the top of the wall in left.

The ball bounced back on the field and was ruled a double. Indians manager Manny Acta argued for a video review. The umpires, after one minute and 20 seconds, upheld their initial decision.

Cunningham was bunted to third and scored on a sacrifice fly to cut Seattle's lead to 3-1. But the Mariners restored their three-run lead in the fourth when Brendan Ryan walked, took third on a Figgins single and scored on the first of two singles by Dustin Ackley.

Figgins reached base three times. He had seen his batting average drop to .234 heading into the game and was in a 4-for-30 slump that began when the team went to Texas last week.

"But I'm putting together some good at-bats," Figgins said. "I just have to stick with the approach.

"For some reason, when I'm battling in the count I have more success. Versus being up in the count and being too aggressive."

The numbers this year bear that out.

Figgins entered the night 2-for-6 (.333) with the count 1-2 and 5-for-13 (.385) with the count 2-2. But he was a combined 0-for-8 with the count at 2-1, 3-1 or full before going deep off Lowe.

"I've always been able to bear down with two strikes because then I'm not thinking 'Do I pull it? Do I hit it up the middle?' " Figgins said. "Versus just reacting and swinging.

"If it's in the heart of the plate I'm going to put a good swing on it."

Ichiro and Figgins have been driving the ball more often this season, though not always generating good results.

"It was nice to get started off the way we did with Figgy and Ichiro," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "They both stayed through the ball and then drove it. It was a great way to get the game going."

Ichiro entered with an on-base percentage of just .302 and a slugging percentage of .360, numbers that don't exactly scream power. But his line drive rate was up considerably.

"You look at Ichiro and he's hit a lot of balls hard," Wedge said. "He's had a lot of hard outs. He's back-spinning the ball much better. And Figgins, too, for that matter ... he's been squaring the ball. He's doing a much better job with his lower half this year, he's healthy and it shows."

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

Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners.

Anyone there?
Smallest crowds in a Mariners home game at Safeco Field:
Att. Opponent Date
11,343 Cleveland April 18, 2012
11,701 Baltimore May 31, 2011
12,411 Detroit April 19, 2011
12,428 Toronto April 13, 2011

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