Rookie pitcher Michael Pineda turned to his trusted heat, striking out seven as the Mariners beat the visiting Blue Jays 3-2 despite an eighth-inning scare.
Michael Pineda fidgeted in the dugout, hoping his first career victory wasn’t about to go up in smoke.
But on a night when the most promising young pitcher in the Mariners organization came into his own, it took another key future franchise piece to ensure that everything ended as it should. It was Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak who helped preserve a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays by ending a nervy eighth inning with a terrific catch in foul territory and a strong throw home to nab a tagging runner.
Pineda looked on from the dugout as Smoak’s one-hop throw to the plate beat a speedy Corey Patterson by several steps.
“When the double play happened, I was thinking, ‘Yes!’ ” Pineda said afterward. “I’d been working to get a double play but had a little trouble. But then, when I saw that double play, I went ‘Yes!’ It was a pretty good double play.”
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The crowd of 15,500 at Safeco Field also let out a huge sigh of relief. Moments earlier, what had seemed like a good idea in rewarding Pineda by allowing him to work the eighth inning had nearly blown up in everyone’s face.
Pineda was cruising with a 3-0 lead, having thrown just 88 pitches through seven innings. He’d allowed only three hits, struck out six and walked just one.
It was all somewhat reminiscent of another young pitcher’s Safeco Field debut, that one coming back in August 2005 when a guy named Felix Hernandez tossed eight scoreless frames on five hits and six strikeouts. The way Pineda was throwing, it looked like a two-run homer by Ryan Langerhans off Toronto starter Ricky Romero in the third inning was all the Mariners would need.
Seattle scored another that inning after Jack Wilson reached on an error and Milton Bradley singled him home.
Pineda looked dominant after surviving a fourth-inning scare and had ended the seventh with strikeouts of J.P. Arencibia and Travis Snider.
So when manager Eric Wedge opted to give Pineda one more inning, few could envision anything going too wrong.
“He was still strong,” Wedge said. “He was commanding the ballgame. You could see with his pitch count that it was going to be tough for him to finish the game, but ultimately, in a tight ballgame like that, that’s secondary to getting outs and keeping the ballgame where it is, anyway.
“But he deserved that opportunity to try to get through that eighth inning. And then we had to go get him.”
Pineda gave up a leadoff single in the eighth and then — after notching his seventh and final strikeout — a walk. A passed ball charged to Olivo moved runners up to second and third.
That brought pitching coach Carl Willis to the mound, but the crowd cheered as he left with Pineda still in the game. Soon after, the crowd was on edge again after Patterson singled in two runs, prompting Pineda’s removal and applause as he headed to the dugout.
Chris Ray came on and Patterson — a late cut by Seattle in spring training a year ago — stole second and then took third when Olivo’s throw wound up in center field. That got Pineda fidgeting in the dugout, the crowd uneasy in its seats and Wedge and company wondering whether Monday night’s comeback heroics were about to happen in reverse.
Until, that is, reigning American League home-run king Jose Bautista popped a ball up the right-field line foul. With the infield playing in, the guy with the best shot at the ball was Smoak.
“It’s something we really didn’t practice that much,” Smoak quipped.
Smoak could have let the ball drop in foul territory and not risked having to make a throw home. But he didn’t want to give the powerful Bautista a shot at hitting a go-ahead two-run homer either.
“The throw was the toughest part,” he said. “You just try to get it right at him and Miggy (Olivo) made a great play on it.”
Smoak said he’d never made a throw of that distance in a game before. He said having Pineda out there throwing strikes like he was kept the infielders on their toes.
“He’s got the presence, he’s got the stuff and he’s got the mindset,” Smoak said. “He’s fun to play behind.”
Fun to sneak up on from behind as well, apparently.
The Mariners gang-tackled the 6-foot-7, 265-pound behemoth afterward and herded him into the showers for a postgame beer dousing. It was another first for Pineda on a night filled with them.
“I was excited,” he said. “It was my first game here. To win here, I was very excited.”
And so are the Mariners. They needed something to get excited about after a rather ominous beginning to the 2011 campaign.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Seven of the 10 lowest-attended games at Safeco Field have come in the past two seasons.|
|13,056||April 11, 2011||Blue Jays||W, 8-7|
|14,528||April 19, 2010||Orioles||W, 8-2|
|14,627||May 5, 2010||Rays||L, 8-3|
|15,500||April 12, 2011||Blue Jays||W, 3-2|
|15,589||May 4, 2010||Rays||L, 5-2|
|15,818||May 6, 2008||Rangers||L, 10-1|
|15,931||April 20, 2010||Orioles||W, 3-1|
|15,978||April 14, 2010||A’s||W, 4-2|
|16,002||May 19, 2009||Angels||L, 6-5|
|16,102||May 8, 2006||Rays||W, 6-3|