Behind seven shutout innings from starting pitcher Miguel Batista and key hits by Jose Vidro and Ichiro, Seattle took the first of a crucial three-game set against the Angels, a 2-0 nail biter at Safeco Field....

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Mariners manager John McLaren didn’t hide his enthusiasm Monday afternoon about hosting the American League West-leading Los Angeles Angels later that night. He said he’d talked to his team before the series about playing in a game “that means something.”

“This is why you wear the uniform,” McLaren said.

Big stakes. Big response.

Behind seven shutout innings from starting pitcher Miguel Batista and key hits by Jose Vidro and Ichiro, Seattle took the first of a crucial three-game set against the Angels, a 2-0 nail biter at Safeco Field.

With the win, in front of 31,232, Seattle pulled three games behind the Angels and 1 ½ games behind idle Cleveland in the wild-card race.

“It’s just a great win for us,” McLaren said. “Everybody contributed.”

Unlike the anemic bats of the Oakland Athletics, whom the Mariners took three of four from over the weekend, the Angels came in with a dynamic offense. They were leading the AL with 93 stolen bases and ranked third in the major leagues with a .286 average. Los Angeles had six starters in the lineup with averages at .302 or better.

Yet Batista (11-7), who tied his career high in wins, tamed them all. He allowed only four hits in seven innings, threw 104 pitches, 71 for strikes, fanning two and walking none, before leaving with a tight right biceps. He kept the Angels off-balance all night, recording 12 ground-ball outs.

A key was Batista’s quick start. Batista has struggled early in games, giving up 23 of his 62 runs in the first two innings of his starts this year. But he escaped unscathed in those frames except for a Vladimir Guerrero single.

Guerrero had been 11 for 20 lifetime against Batista entering the game.

“I want to make sure that we start this series [on] the right foot,” Batista said. “And I’m glad we did. We need to make pressure to [the Angels] now. We don’t want to wait till September.”

The Mariners’ offense scratched out just enough against Angels starter Kelvim Escobar, who came in with an 11-4 record and a 2.91 earned-run average.

First blood was drawn in the bottom of the third. With one out and Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. shifted far toward left field, Ichiro smacked a ball to the wide-open gap in right-center and cruised into third base with a stand-up triple.

Vidro nearly decapitated Escobar with a line drive, scoring Ichiro and giving the Mariners a 1-0 lead.

The Mariners scored an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh. Kenji Johjima dropped a single just fair down the right-field line in front of Guerrero, then Yuniesky Betancourt blooped another single to center field.

Up stepped Ichiro, who chopped a grounder to first that seemed to take a bad hop right in front of first baseman Casey Kotchman, whizzing past his head. Johjima came around to score.

Raul Ibanez continued the Mariners’ impressive defense in the third, diving low and to his right to catch a Guerrero line drive just inches above the grass. Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued the ball was trapped but television replays showed otherwise.

With all the talk about the Mariners needing more bullpen help, especially with Chris Reitsma likely done for the year with impending elbow surgery, Brandon Morrow continued to sizzle in late relief out of the bullpen.

The rookie, who has struck out 13 and hasn’t allowed a run in his last five outings, entered in the eighth and retired the Angels easily but for a walk.

“He’s opening some eyes up for me,” said McLaren, 13-13 as manager since taking over for Mike Hargrove.

Morrow said he has worked out his mechanics with pitching coach Rafael Chavez, allowing him to have a more consistent release point.

J.J. Putz retired the side in order in the ninth for his AL-best 31st save. The inning included an electric strikeout of Guerrero on a 96 mph eye-level fastball.