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

The win, in front of 31,232, pulls Seattle to within three games of the divison lead, and that despite the recent seven-game slide. Seattle also gained a half-game on idle Cleveland in the wild-card race.

With the win, McLaren moved to 13-13 as manager since taking over for Mike Hargrove after his sudden resignation.

Unlike the anemic bats of the Oakland A’s, whom the Mariners took three of four from over the weekend, the Angels featured a dynamic offense that led the A.L. with 93 stolen bases and was third-best in the Major Leagues with a .286 team batting average.

Los Angeles also had six starters with batting averages over .302.

Batista, who already had a team-high 10 wins, tamed them. In seven innings, he threw 104 pitches, 71 for strikes, fanning two and walking none. He gave up just four hits and recorded 12 ground ball outs, including six straight to start the game.

A big key for Batista was his quick start. Batista has struggled early, 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 Vladamir Guerrero single.

Guerrero had been 11 for 20 lifetime against Batista coming in.

The Angels threatened in the top of the third. Jeff Mathis and Reggie Willits led off with back-to-back singles. But Batista struck out Chone Figgins, then got Orlando Cabrera to fly out to center.

Raul Ibanez continued the Mariners impressive defense, diving low and to his right to catch up with a Guerrero line drive just inches above the grass. Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out to argue that the ball was trapped but television replays showed otherwise.

McLaren said before the game that he was “absolutely” going to stick with Ibanez and Richie Sexson down the stretch, despite their significant slumps at the plate.

“When you’re a professional and you’re not having a great year and you’re still going out there and giving it your all, and not hanging your head and battling, that means something to your teammates, and that’s important to me,” McLaren said.

Ibanez has seen his average drop from .279 on July 1 to .255. Hasn’t homered since June 23. Sexson meanwhile has yet to emerge from his season-long slumber, and came into the game batting .204.

The Mariners meanwhile scratched out just enough offense against Angels starter Kelvim Escobar, who came in with an 11-4 record, including two complete games, and a 2.91 ERA.

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

Vidro came up next and just about decapitated Escobar with a head-level 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, spinning past his head. Johjima came around to score.

Ichiro went 3 for 4, a day after getting his 1,500th hit.

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

The rookie, who has struck out 12 and hasn’t allowed a run in his last four outings, came on in the eighth and retired the Angels easily but for a walk.

J.J. Putz retired the side in order in the ninth for his 31st save. The frame included an electric strikeout of the Angels’ 81-RBI harbinger of terror, Guerroro, on a 96-mph eye-level fastball.