Gutsy pitching helps Mariners hold off Rays
Jason Vargas took a shutout into the seventh inning, Michael Saunders had two runs batted in and the Seattle Mariners beat the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 on Saturday night.
Seattle Times staff reporter
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was no comfort zone for Jason Vargas once his pitches stopped hitting their target.
His Mariners were already short in the bullpen after a 14-inning loss the night before and could ill afford an abbreviated stint by the left-hander. And ultimately, the reason the Mariners held on Saturday night for a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays was because Vargas and his weary bullpen found a way to get it done when they had to.
Whether it was Vargas toughing out six-plus innings with base runners in all but one frame, Shawn Kelley making a phenomenal play on a bunt, or Oliver Perez, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen throwing hitless ball, the Mariners got it done on the mound.
"I think that was why I was getting more frustrated, I kept going 3-2 to everybody, it felt like," Vargas said after notching his 10th win of the season. "To come out with the win and be able to hold that together, it was huge."
The Mariners struck out 15 more times in this game, leaving Vargas and the bullpen almost no margin for error.
"As good as we were in Kansas City, we've actually gotten away from some of the things that led us to success there offensively," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of his team's free-swinging ways.
A crowd of 18,800 at Tropicana Field kept waiting for the Rays to break on through, but the bullpen retired the final nine Tampa Bay batters to help Seattle improve to 4-2 on the road trip.
Of the 36 runs scored by the Mariners on this trip, 19 have come in the first two innings. They have scored just 17 runs over the 47 other innings they've played in the six-game stretch.
The Mariners continued that early-or-never trend on Saturday with two runs in the first inning off a shaky-looking Alex Cobb, who would go on to throw 37 pitches in the opening frame.
Michael Saunders delivered a bases-loaded single the opposite way to bring two runners home. Cobb would wind up leaving the game after taking a hard comebacker off his right leg on a play that ended the second inning.
With Carlos Peguero on third and two outs, Cobb took the ball off his leg but recovered in time to flip it to catcher Jose Lobaton for the out at the plate. Cobb then crumpled to the ground in pain and wound up leaving with a contusion on the leg.
Tampa Bay, like Seattle, had a weary bullpen from the night before and would have been in serious trouble had Cesar Ramos not entered and carried his team through four brilliant innings. Ramos struck out five batters in a row at one point in throwing two-hit, shutout ball. The innings total was a career high, as were the six strikeouts he notched.
Vargas kept buying his team time by once again blending an improved changeup in with his fastball to keep the Rays off balance.
"I got some outs on it when I really needed it," Vargas said of the changeup. "But there were times when I gave up some hits on it because it was up in the zone."
Still, he didn't give up any home runs and that was huge for a guy who leads the majors with 25 allowed — including 19 on the road.
Despite his efforts, the night appeared in jeopardy when Desmond Jennings and Lobaton opened the seventh with singles. Ichiro ill advisedly tried to throw Jennings out going first-to-third and missed the cutoff man.
The ball got by third baseman Kyle Seager as well for an error on Ichiro — his first this year and the first for Seattle after 12 straight errorless games — to score a run and move the tying marker to second. Kelley replaced Vargas with nobody out and manager Wedge stayed out at the mound barking instructions to his infielders about the bunt situation. He wanted the Mariners to "hunt the baseball."
That's exactly what Kelley did when Sean Rodriguez laid a great bunt in the grass to the pitcher's right. Rodriguez would have been safe had Kelley hesitated at all, but he threw the speedy runner out at first by a half-step.
Kelley then got B.J. Upton to pop out foul to third for a big second out with the tying run still at third. Perez then came on and fanned Carlos Pena to end the inning.