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Originally published May 9, 2012 at 9:29 PM | Page modified May 10, 2012 at 10:33 PM

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Mariners come through in eighth on Jaso's single

Seattle snaps 1-1 tie on single by Jaso, batting leadoff. Jason Vargas allowed one run on five hits in eight innings.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday

M's @ Yankees, 4:05 p.m.,

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As John Jaso addressed a group of reporters after Wednesday's tense 2-1 Mariners victory at Safeco Field, Miguel Olivo yelled over from a neighboring locker, "Best clutch hitter ever!"

That might be a bit extreme, but Jaso has definitely displayed a knack for late-game heroics in his initial Mariners season. In this one, it was his run-scoring single in the eighth inning that scored Michael Saunders from third base and lifted the M's to the victory.

It was the third game-winning RBI of the year, and second of the series, for Jaso, who became the first Mariners catcher to hit leadoff since Bob Stinson in 1978. But he scoffed when asked if he thrives in such situations.

"I don't know, I don't really think I thrive," he said. "I don't get, like, more energy from it or anything like that. It's just the way I am, I guess. I try not to get too high or too low, keep it as level as possible. If I didn't get it done there, it wouldn't have mattered. I would have waited on my next at-bat."

But because he did, Jason Vargas was rewarded with a victory for his outstanding eight-inning outing, with Brandon League earning his eighth save. Both were aided by outstanding Mariner defense, particularly by shortstop Brendan Ryan, who was a one-man Web Gem reel.

"He had just an unbelievable game at shortstop," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "That's why we're working to help him get his bat going, because he's so valuable to us. Obviously, he's a guy that saves more runs than probably any shortstop in the game, and that was very evident tonight."

Vargas, who has received two or fewer runs of support in 22 of his last 40 starts, and has the second-lowest run support in the majors (behind his former teammate Doug Fister, watching from the Detroit dugout) since the start of 2009, gave up one run over eight innings. He allowed just five hits, struck out six and didn't walk any.

But he seemed headed for a no-decision when the game went into the bottom of the eighth, tied 1-1. Michael Saunders, pinch-hitting for Casper Wells, led off with a double down the left-field line off rookie Luke Putkonen after falling behind 1-2 in the count.

"I was going up with the mindset to be aggressive," Saunders said.

He moved to third on a sacrifice by Chone Figgins, and left-hander Duane Below came in to face Jaso, who had won Monday's game with a sacrifice fly off Below in the ninth. He worked the count to 2-2 before drilling a single over drawn-in shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Jaso was thrown out trying to stretch, but it didn't matter.

"He's come through for us time and time again this year, especially in key spots," Wedge said.

Vargas had thrown just 90 pitches, but Wedge still went to League rather than let Vargas finish.

"It's tempting, but you're back to the top of the order," Wedge said. "You have your closer down there. I was really impressed with the way he threw the ball yesterday. You work to get to that point in time in the game so you can give him the baseball, and that's what we did."

Said Vargas: "I was ready to go out and finish. Obviously, you always want to throw a complete game when you can. But Brandon has been pretty good over here, so we'll let him close it down in the ninth."

League started ominously by giving up a leadoff walk to Austin Jackson but got Brennan Boesch to ground into a double play on a low liner right at Ryan that hit off his glove and dropped in front of him. Did he let it drop intentionally?

"No comment," Ryan said with a smile.

Miguel Cabrera then completed a miserable series — 0 for 13 — by flying out.

The Mariners had scored first against impressive Tigers rookie left-hander Drew Smyly, who held them without a hit until Ichiro dropped a soft single into left-center with one out in the fourth.

Jesus Montero, who had been hitting .407 against lefties, struck out for the second time. Ichiro stole second, and came home when Kyle Seager drilled a double off the top of the right-field wall, just barely missing a home run. It was the 13th two-out RBI for Seager out of his team-leading 20.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry.

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