The Mariners were cruising along to a rather nondescript win against the Chicago White Sox until the eighth inning, when things got a lot more tenuous.
CHICAGO — Why win a game comfortably by five runs when you can hang on by your fingernails for a one-run win? In a season where bullpen implosions and failures have led to drama-filled late innings in almost every game, the Mariners continued that trend on Saturday, but still managed to pick up a 7-6 win over the White Sox at a rain-soaked U.S. Cellular Field.
“It was just one of those wild ones,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.
The Mariners were cruising along to what appeared to be a rather nondescript win with the most excitement stemming from catcher John Hicks having to make his major-league debut at third base because of an injury to shortstop Ketel Marte.
But then the bottom of the eighth happened and the Mariners were once again tiptoeing the line between teeth-grinding victory and head-shaking defeat.
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They were up 7-2 and in control, then the eighth inning fell apart. Veteran right-hander Logan Kensing had two outs with runners on first and second. He walked pinch hitter J.B. Shuck to load the bases and then thought he had Adam Eaton struck out on a 2-2 fastball. Home-plate umpire Tim Timmons called it a ball and Kensing walked Eaton on the next pitch to force in a run.
Seeing the lead sliding away, McClendon called on Tom Wilhelmsen — the third closer this season — to get the final out of the eighth.
After a two-run double from Tyler Saladino and a Jose Abreu RBI single, Wilhelmsen got that final out of the eighth when Melky Cabrera grounded out.
But the Mariners’ five-run lead had shrunk to a 7-6 margin.
“They got a lot runs in the eighth,” McClendon said.
In the ninth inning, Wilhelmsen allowed the tying run to reach base with a walk to Adam LaRoche, but he retired the next two batters to notch his sixth save.
Seattle was fortunate to tack on two runs in the top of the eighth, aided by a bad error by Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
Those runs came with a cost as Marte limped off the field with what the team labeled a mild right-hamstring strain.
“It’s not a pull,” McClendon said. “It’s a strain. He should be day-to-day.”
The Mariners’ starting shortstop injured his hamstring while lunging to first base on his high chopper that scored one of the two runs in the inning.
Marte was out on the play and out of the game.
“When I touched the base it felt tight,” he said. “It feels good now. I think I could play tomorrow.”
The team’s other shortstop, Brad Miller, started in center field and had come out of the game for pinch hitter Austin Jackson earlier in the inning. It left the Mariners without an infielder on the bench.
So when the bottom of the eighth began, Kyle Seager trotted out to shortstop — a position he’d played often in the minor leagues and a handful of times at the big-league level.
And at third base? Well, recently called-up catcher John Hicks raced in from the bullpen, grabbed a fielder’s glove and made his debut at a position he’d never played in his minor-league career.
Hicks didn’t even have a fielder’s glove to use.
“It was Miller’s glove,” he said. “I came in and asked if anyone had a glove for me and Miller ran and got me one.”
As baseball is known to do, the ball found Hicks in the critical ninth with LaRoche on first. Ramirez hit a towering infield pop-up to third base. Hicks first looked at Seager, who wasn’t coming over to help. So he made the catch, looking somewhat unsure of himself.
“I was expecting Seager to call me off,” Hicks said. “He didn’t.”
The Mariners’ offense provided plenty of run support for the pitching staff, including starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who worked an inefficient 52/3 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with four walks and six strikeouts but still got the win to improve to 6-3.
Seager continued to swing the bat well after his unexpected day off on Thursday. After getting three hits, including a solo homer, in Friday’s 2-0 win, Seager drilled a two-run homer off Sox starter Jeff Samardzija in his first at-bat, staying on an outside fastball and driving it over the wall in left-center for his 20th homer of the season.
It was Seager’s fourth straight season of 20 or more homers, placing him in a group that includes Edgar Martinez (7), Jay Buhner (7), Alex Rodriguez (5), Ken Griffey Jr. (5 and 4), Bret Boone (4) and Raul Ibanez (4).
It was also a good day for second baseman Robinson Cano, who was 4 for 4.