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Originally published May 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 2, 2007 at 9:07 PM

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M's win Tampa ground battle

A grinning Miguel Batista spoke after this victory about a comment he overheard from his team's second baseman the night before. "I heard [Jose] Lopez...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Seattle @ Tampa Bay, 12:10 p.m., no TV/KOMO (1000 AM)

Pitchers: M's Horacio Ramirez (4-2, 6.10) vs. Jae Seo (2-4, 7.80)

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A grinning Miguel Batista spoke after this victory about a comment he overheard from his team's second baseman the night before.

"I heard [Jose] Lopez talking last night and he said 'Miggy's pitching, we know we're going to get some work tomorrow,' " Batista said. "So that means, they know I'm going to make people hit the ball on the ground. It's good to know that they're there ready for you."

The Mariners were indeed ready for an adventure-packed night of Batista ball, making two key fielding gems in the second inning of an eventual 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Wednesday night.

Despite the final score, the result could have been far different had the gloves not been out before the D-Rays mailed it in the final five or six innings.

It began with a sprinting catch in left center by Ichiro with a man on and none out in the second, the kind of grab only the swiftest and most sure handed of outfielders achieve. While Ichiro made that grab appear routine, there was nothing easy-looking about the diving snare by Yuniesky Betancourt of a B.J. Upton grounder with two on and one out that same inning.

Betancourt fully extended himself to his left, knocked the ball down, then somehow flipped it to Lopez at second for the force. Had the ball gone up the middle, the Devil Rays, already leading 1-0 on a leadoff home run by Upton in the first, would have had a second marker and runners at the corners with one out.

The Mariners took over from there. Jose Guillen collected a season-high four hits and reached on an error to launch a two-run fourth inning, capped by Betancourt's double to left off Devil Rays starter Casey Fossum that brought home a pair.

Today

Seattle @ Tampa Bay, 12:10 p.m., no TV/KOMO (1000 AM)

Pitchers: M's Horacio Ramirez (4-2, 6.10) vs. Jae Seo (2-4, 7.80)

Guillen later singled and scored on a Kenji Johjima double to make it 3-1 in the sixth. An inning later, after Jose Vidro managed only the second sacrifice bunt of the season by the Mariners to advance two men into scoring position, Guillen singled again to score both.

That sent much of the remaining crowd of 8,440 at Tropicana Field scurrying for the exits. The Mariners moved up to 4-½ games behind the American League West-leading Los Angeles Angels, losers in Detroit, by holding the D-Rays to just a lone single after the fourth inning.

"This team looks good when we play the way we played today," Guillen said. "We pitched, we played defense. We moved the runners [over]. We did OK with people on base.

"This looks like the team everybody expected it to be. Everybody knows what the problems are. Hopefully, we can just stay consistent. That's something we haven't been able to do yet."

For the second straight game, the Mariners appeared a hit away from falling behind 4-0 or 5-0 by the second inning. That is, until the plays by Ichiro and especially the one by Betancourt.

"The only reason I thought that play was possible was because it was Betancourt," said Ichiro, who had a pair of singles to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. "If some other player was playing that position, as soon as the batter hit it I would have thought it was a hit."

Batista was looking terrible at that point, having allowed hits to five of the first 10 batters he faced and some very shaky outs to the rest.

"It was huge," Batista said of the second-inning defense. "I didn't have much on the ball my first two innings. My back was tired and I felt like crap. I was looking around trying to see where I'd left myself. My velocity was down. I missed my location."

But he staggered through four more frames as the Mariners completed their comeback against Fossum. The D-Rays left-hander got burned for a pair of unearned runs — courtesy of two fielding errors — and allowed one more after entering the night tied for the worst earned-run average among active AL starters at 7.80.

As underwhelming as Fossum looked over his 5-1/3 innings, he outdueled Batista early on.

"His pitch count was up the first couple of innings and I thought we'd be lucky to get five out of him," manager Mike Hargrove said of Batista.

But the glove work by Ichiro and Betancourt had left Batista — and his team — plenty of room to wiggle off the early hook.

"Both those plays were huge, just turned the game around for us," Hargrove said. "If either one of those balls falls in ... especially Betancourt's, the run scores and you've got runners at first and third and one out. It turned out there was runners on first and third with two out, and we got the third out with no scoring."

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

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

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