Mariners escape with 1-0 victory in ninth
Casper Wells safe at home after catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia drops throw on John Jaso's hit. Felix Hernandez throws a five-hitter with 13 strikeouts.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Boston @ M's, 7:10 p.m., ROOT
Felix Hernandez had watched his center fielder race to the gap for a ball during the most important at-bat of the night to that point.
Hernandez had pitched one of the biggest games of his career Thursday night, but it was in danger of coming undone before Michael Saunders hauled the ball in on a dead run with two men on in the ninth. And when the Mariners eventually won this 1-0 thriller on a walkoff single by John Jaso a half-inning later, they poured on to the field in celebration of both Hernandez and themselves.
For Hernandez, the career-best-tying 13 strikeouts against the offensive powerhouse Boston Red Sox erased memories of what's been a somewhat average first half of the season for him. And for the Mariners, struggling to score at the best of times, finally snapping their latest scoreless innings streak at 15 gives them at least a 24-hour reprieve from all the questions about why they can't get it done.
"I was like 'Get it! Get it! Get him out!' " Hernandez said of the Saunders catch. "Saunders ran down that ball pretty good."
Hernandez was battling on pure emotion to that point as Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez fouled off three straight full-count pitches in a nine-pitch at-bat before driving it to the gap. After Saunders made the play, Hernandez needed one final pitch — his 128th of the night — to get Will Middlebrooks to pop out and end Boston's only real threat of the game.
"That at-bat against Adrian (Gonzalez), that was key right there," Hernandez said. "I mean, that was all I've got. That's all I've got."
Saunders was only in the game because Franklin Gutierrez suffered a slight concussion in the fourth inning when a pickoff throw from Boston starter Franklin Morales hit him in the right ear as he scampered back to first base. Gutierrez is likely to go on baseball's new seven-day disabled list implemented this season specifically for concussion injuries.
Casper Wells had electrified the crowd of 20,692 at Safeco Field in the eighth inning with two tough catches. The second one was a sliding grab in the left-field corner in which he hit the wall but held on to end the frame.
Wells then drilled a one-out double in the bottom of the ninth off relief pitcher Scott Atchison. The Mariners had been dominated on just three singles over seven scoreless innings by Morales, so those in the dugout and the stands could sense this might be Seattle's final chance of the night.
After an intentional walk to Justin Smoak, pinch-hitter Jaso lined a single to right field.
The throw from right fielder Cody Ross had Wells beat and plate umpire Adrian Johnson initially signaled him out. But catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could not hold on to the ball as he tagged Wells in the face, leading to a revised "safe" call and an eruption of joy from the Mariners as they poured on to the field.
"That was unbelievable," Hernandez said. "We needed that win."
Hernandez's performance was his third consecutive solid outing. Coming against the Red Sox, one of the better-hitting clubs in the American League, was more of a statement than steamrolling the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.
"I felt strong and all my pitches were working really well," Hernandez said. "I was down in the zone and throwing strikes. That's me right there. And after that, we played unbelievable defense."
Wells said he had the outfield wall in his peripheral vision as he prepared to slide for the fly ball to the corner in the eighth. The way the game was going, he knew every out was going to be big.
"Luckily I wasn't closer or I probably would have gotten smashed up pretty good," Wells said. "I got a good gauge on where the wall was and kind of slid into it. My knee caught the brunt of the bottom part of the wall. But luckily I had enough space to catch the ball there. It was kind of tight."
There wasn't much luck needed in the bottom of the ninth. Jaso has become the team's "iceman" off the bench and he needed to see just one pitch — a slider — from Atchison before lining the winning hit.
"I've faced him before and that's like his go-to pitch," Jaso said of Atchison. "And it's a good one, too. He's gotten me out more than I've hit it. I think he just left it over the plate a bit too much. I'm glad I went up there in swing mode, not looking to see many pitches.
"I was looking to drive in a run."
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was looking for anybody to do that on a night Hernandez left everything he had on the mound.
"Tonight was as good as I've ever seen him," Wedge said.
The Mariners weren't quite as good at the plate. But their gloves and bats proved just enough.