It was a curious lineup upon first glance. It was unique lineup upon further research. It was a winning lineup Saturday.
A pieced together, right-handed heavy Mariners lineup that was missing slugger Robinson Cano for the third straight game and featured a No. 1 and No. 2 hitter whose combined age was over 72 years old somehow managed to pull out a 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers at Safeco Field in front of 37,142 fans.
With Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly on the mound, manager Lloyd McClendon put together an unusual lineup with Willie Bloomquist leading off and the recently called up Endy Chavez batting second. It had Mike Zunino batting third as the DH while Michael Saunders, James Jones and Dustin Ackley were all on the bench.
But there was a method to this madness — namely the severe splits for Smyly when facing right-handed and left-handed hitters.
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Right-handed hitters came in batting .286 against Smyly with an .822 on-base plus slugging percentage, while lefties were mustering a .122 batting average with a .455 OPS.
The decision paid off. Bloomquist had two run-scoring singles and Cole Gillespie had an RBI single — both right-handed hitters — to drive in all the runs.
“Willie had a pretty darn good game,” McClendon said. “Other than that, we didn’t hit him really hard. I’ve said all along — sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Today we were fortunate. We got some seeing-eye hits. And it’s about time we get our share of those.”
Smyly was never sharp from the start. And it fell apart in the second inning. Stefen Romero yanked a one-out single into left field and John Buck followed with a bloop single to center. Romero got a nice read on the soft flare and was able to advance from first to third on the play. That heads-up running loomed large when Gillespie hit a swinging bunt off the end of his bat just past the mound for an infield single that allowed Romero to race home.
Later with two outs in the inning, Bloomquist pulled a ground ball through the left side of the infield to score Gillespie from second and make it 2-0.
“I’m just trying to get good pitches to hit,” Bloomquist said. “For me, that’s the biggest challenge right now is to make sure I swing at strikes. Without consistent reps, you are kind of up there swinging at stuff you shouldn’t be.”
When Smyly finally got Chavez to ground out to end the inning, he’d thrown 38 pitches in the frame and was at 54 total.
The Tigers answered as only they can with brute power in the fourth inning. Miguel Cabrera took advantage of a 0-2 fastball up in the strike zone from Mariners starter Chris Young and crushed it into the left-field seats for his second homer in as many days and 10th of the season.
“He’s an unbelievable hitter,” Young said. “There’s no real way to get him out. You just kind of get lucky.”
The Mariners’ makeshift lineup answered as only it could, scratching a run across.
Gillespie reached on a throwing error by shortstop Andrew Romine, stole second and then scored when Bloomquist dumped a single into right field off Smyly to make it 3-1.
Detroit cut the lead to 3-2 in the seventh inning. Austin Jackson led off with a double to center off Young, ending his outing. Jackson later came around to score on a wild pitch by Dominic Leone. The Mariners looked on the verge of giving up the lead. But with two outs and runners on first and second, Gillespie made a brilliant running catch, slamming into the left-field wall and robbing Ian Kinsler of a double to end the inning.
“It was a ball that I thought I had a pretty good jump on from the get go,” Gillespie said. “The wall actually snuck up on me. I thought I had more room to go.”
Young (5-2) worked six innings, giving up two runs on three hits with two walks and a season-high six strikeouts. He improved to 3-0 in five starts at Safeco Field.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373