Casey Kotchman drove in four runs in his Mariners debut, helping Seattle to a 5-3 win over Oakland.
OAKLAND, Calif. — One thing about these Mariners after a nail-biting season opener: They sure know how to talk.
They may act soft-spoken, but to hear second baseman Chone Figgins tell it, the infield was chatting up a storm between every pitch of a nine-inning glove-fest Monday night in which the Mariners turned four double plays. Figgins said the infielders use all the chitchat they can muster to stay loose, something they desperately needed in the tense latter stages of what became a 5-3 win over the Oakland Athletics.
Seattle nearly let this one get away until Casey Kotchman, who had used his own gift of gab to talk his way back into the No. 3 spot in the order just a day earlier, delivered a two-out, two-run single in the ninth that finally decided the contest.
The Mariners had been on the verge of handing the A’s the game in the eighth inning until Figgins and his talkative infield crew turned double play No. 4 to ensure they’d have even more to chat about with reporters postgame.
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“It’s huge when you talk to each other,” Figgins said afterward, in a visitors’ clubhouse that seemed to collectively exhale that they’d gotten through this. “When you talk about anything at all in the infield, it keeps you on your toes, keeps everybody loose. We’ll tell each other ‘Way to swing it!’ or ‘You just missed it!’ or ‘What are you going to do for dinner tonight?’ or ‘How’s the wife and kids?’
“Just saying anything helps. I’m the one doing most of the talking. I’ll be talking to (Jose) Lopez across the diamond and he’ll be looking over and saying stuff to Jack Wilson. That’s what we do.”
And the reason the Mariners were still around to let Kotchman win it on a four-RBI night — after a fourth Oakland error in that final inning as 30,686 fans at the Coliseum groaned in unison — was because the infield let its gloves do the talking as well.
Those gloves helped starter Felix Hernandez nearly make it through seven innings with a 3-1 lead despite having walked a career-high six batters. They helped Brandon League through a nervy eighth inning with the double play, his first Mariners victory later secured once Kotchman came through and David Aardsma nailed down a flawless ninth.
The A’s actually failed to hit a single ball in the air off Hernandez the first five innings, with Seattle’s ace seemingly content to let Oakland put the ball on the ground. And the Mariners didn’t miss a chance on any grounders until shortstop Wilson muffed one for an error to put two on with none out in the eighth.
Seattle had already squandered a 3-0 lead by then. Figgins and his destabilizing running game had managed to steal two bases, take two more on throwing errors by catcher Kurt Suzuki, then score a pair of runs before the game was three innings old.
Rob Johnson added to the lead with a solo homer to left off A’s starter Ben Sheets in the second inning.
But the A’s scored in the sixth and then, after consecutive walks issued by Hernandez with two out in the seventh, Sean White came on and surrendered consecutive run-scoring singles to Cliff Pennington and Rajai Davis that tied things up.
Things looked bleak for reliever League after the Wilson error in the eighth. But League tried not to let it rattle him, threw one of his trademark sinkers and watched Kevin Kouzmanoff pound it into the ground to begin a 5-4-3 double play that keyed Seattle’s escape.
League credited some of his cool mound demeanor to, of all things, a pregame team talk.
“We had a team meeting before the game and Mike Sweeney gave a talk about how we have to pick each other up,” League said. “That’s what I tried to do. I’m a sinkerball pitcher and I know they can handle ground balls. They play into my strength.”
Kotchman played to his strengths in the ninth by working the count full against closer Brad Ziegler, then lacing a ball to center to snap a 3-3 tie. He had been working the count all night against Oakland pitching with the same effectiveness he’d used in talking manager Don Wakamatsu into putting him back in the No. 3 spot.
Wakamatsu admitted pregame that he was about to bat Kotchman sixth in the order to take pressure off. That is, until Kotchman met with him Sunday and talked him out of it.
“You just try to make the most out of opportunities that you get,” Kotchman said. “Wak has an open dialogue and brings a lot to you as a player. You just try to have that open dialogue with him.”
And Wakamatsu was pleased to see his team back up the talk with action.
“I liked the energy in the dugout, first and foremost,” Wakamatsu said. “I think these guys are ready to play.”
And when it mattered most, they showed they can walk the walk as well.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners