Cliff Lee, changes in batting order help Mariners beat Texas, 4-2, in first game of crucial four-game series.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The sight of a Michael Saunders blast heading over the right-field wall early in Monday night’s game did wonders for some of that tension engulfing this Mariners team.
After all, the Mariners had withstood a plethora of lineup changes, one coaching shuffle and knew they had a gassed bullpen before the first pitch had even been thrown. But after this 4-2 win over the Texas Rangers was done, Saunders suggested his three-run homer in the second inning was merely the sideshow to the main act produced by starting pitcher Cliff Lee.
With temperatures up near 100 degrees, Lee went out and tossed only the third complete game ever thrown by a Mariners pitcher at Rangers Ballpark. He did it by working at a brisk pace that Saunders said was as important as any ball he hit.
“I think it all started with Cliff,” said Saunders, whose homer off Rangers starter Scott Feldman was Saunders’ third since being called up from Class AAA last month. “He did a great job with pace and momentum when we were out in the field. He got us right back in the dugout quick. Being out in this heat, especially, it was something that was huge for us. He set a good tone and a good pace. I think as a team, we fed off that especially.”
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Lee didn’t allow any runs until the ninth, when the Rangers put three hits and a fielder’s choice together to halve the lead. But Lee went on to retire the side with two on, producing his second complete game this season, striking out seven with no walks.
“In my mind, when it’s that hot, I’ve got to make sure I throw first-pitch strikes, get ahead in the count,” said Lee, who had been 3-3 with a 9.19 earned-run average in six career starts in Arlington. “I try to stay away from 2-0, 3-1, let them know I’m coming right at them and force them to swing the bat.”
The Mariners knew coming in they had to win three of four in this series at a minimum to gain any ground in the American League West. The Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics are also playing a four-game series this week and that will limit the amount of ground Seattle can make up
The lineup changes announced pregame came as a jolt within the clubhouse. So did a coaching change that saw first-base coach Lee Tinsley switch roles with third-base coach Mike Brumley.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said the coaching switch wasn’t done to single anyone out, just to add to the “different look” he was trying to give the team. The lineup responded for the first three innings, taking a 4-0 lead.
Chone Figgins finished the night with three hits after being told upon his arrival that he was being inserted in the No. 9 spot instead of his customary No. 2 position. Wakamatsu said the move wasn’t just about Figgins, but also about taking a look at Milton Bradley in the No. 2 spot and trying to generate more production throughout the lineup.
A displeased Figgins told reporters after the game that he wasn’t buying that the move wasn’t about him.
“Obviously, it is, because he moved me,” Figgins said. “I mean, I’ve been getting on base. I’ve been swinging the bat pretty good. Obviously, it had something to do with me. I think I’ve earned enough respect as a player, because I’m still battling and I’m going good, that I should stay where I was at.”
Figgins went on to say he had no plans to discuss the matter further with Wakamatsu. He added that he won’t change as a player.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I don’t have anything to say. The fact is, I come to play. And anybody that’s ever known me or watched me play this game knows no matter whether you hit me first, second or 10th, I’m going to play. If I come off the bench, I’m going to come to play 110 percent. And there is not anybody in this game who can take that away from me.”
Newly added first baseman Mike Carp, who started in place of Casey Kotchman, got on base twice his first two times up and scored a third-inning run on a single by Rob Johnson.
The rest was all Lee, who, as he said he would, conserved pitches early on in the sweltering heat and still had enough left in the tank when he needed it. He got Craig Gentry to ground out to end the sixth with two on, two out and the count full, then retired Matt Treanor on a pop-up with his 107th pitch to end the game with two on.
“In the middle innings, I got some pretty quick innings due to the fact that I was going right at them early,” Lee said. “And they realized that and were swinging early, and I got some quick outs, which enabled me to get deep into the game and finish it off.”
And the Mariners needed it, given how their revamped offense, having worked Feldman’s pitch count so well the first three innings, managed just two singles from that point on. Now comes the hard part of finding some more guys who can “finish off” the Rangers the next few nights without Lee’s help.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners