A little reminder to himself as he stood trembling in the batter's box allowed Mariners rookie Oswaldo Navarro to keep this game from going...
A little reminder to himself as he stood trembling in the batter’s box allowed Mariners rookie Oswaldo Navarro to keep this game from going any longer.
Navarro had already watched his teammates and the visiting Texas Rangers strand 10 base runners apiece on Saturday night in a game well into its fourth hour. He had been summoned to make his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter in the 13th inning with two on, nobody out and the sole job of bunting both runners into scoring position.
“I was very nervous, especially in that situation,” said Navarro, who began the year in Class AA and was recalled from Class AAA Tacoma for the season’s final month. “But I controlled my nerves. I know I can bunt. It’s my game. I can do it.”
Navarro did indeed move both runners over, setting up an eventual bases-loaded single by Jose Lopez that gave Seattle a 3-2 victory in its longest home game this season.
A crowd of 33,454 at Safeco Field watched the home side squander opportunity upon opportunity before Lopez drove a ball to left center, over the heads of some drawn-in Texas outfielder. But another thing they saw during this four-hour, 16-minute marathon — eclipsing the previous-long three-hour, 56-minute home game against the Minnesota Twins back in June — was several possible components of the team’s future performing in pressure situations.
No, it wasn’t the World Series.
And even Mariners manager Mike Hargrove admitted afterward that, “I don’t think you’d have seen that many moves by either team if we didn’t have that many people to go to.”
But this is what September baseball is all about for the non-contenders. And the Rangers and Mariners — despite Seattle’s 12 victories in its last 14 home games — certainly rate as two of those.
It’s why the Rangers used eight pitchers in the game and the Mariners seven. Also why part-time major-leaguer Emilio Fruto, another September call-up in his fourth stint with the team this season, tossed the final 2-2/3 innings to pick up his first major-league victory.
Sure the game should have been over well before Fruto, Navarro and rookie pitchers Eric O’Flaherty and Jon Huber were asked to play key roles. After all, how many times will closer J.J. Putz come within one strike of ending a game before being taken over the wall for a tying home run?
That’s what happened in the ninth as Gary Matthews Jr. lined a 98 mile-an-hour, full-count offering from Putz into the seats in right field.
“I didn’t think he was really on my fastball in that at-bat,” Putz said. “What you’ve got to do is tip your hat on that.”
The crowd groaned in unison at the sixth blown save by Putz in 37 opportunities this season — costing Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn his third consecutive victory.
They groaned even louder in the bottom of the ninth when a one-out drive to right centre by Richie Sexson hit the top of the wall and bounced back down for a double. Three batters later, the inning was over and the real endurance test had begun.
Putz credited several of the team’s young arms for keeping Seattle’s hopes alive as the bats continued to strand runners in each of the innings that followed.
“Fruto hasn’t pitched in a month,” he said. “And he came out throwing strikes, aggressive. He threw the ball real well.
“I think these guys just come in and they have great stuff. They’re not afraid and they’re challenging the hitters. They’re not falling behind trying to nibble. They’re going right after them.”
Texas opened the scoring in the sixth when Mark DeRosa doubled off Washburn to score Carlos Lee from first based. But as a throwing error in the bottom of the frame by Rangers starter Robinson Tejada on a Chris Snelling bunt attempt allowed the tying run to score.
Seattle scored the go-ahead run moments later when Yuniesky Betancourt grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. It was the final run Seattle would score until the 13th, when Raul Ibanez and Eduardo Perez drew leadoff walks off southpaw reliever John Rheinecker.
Hargrove then inserted the right-handed hitting Navarro, forcing Texas to counter with right-hander Josh Rupe. Once Navarro got the bunt down on a 2-0 pitch, Rupe walked Kenji Johjima to bring up Lopez.
“I’d already had two chances to win the game,” said Lopez, who ended the ninth and 11th innings on ground outs. “This time, I wanted to wait for him to throw a strike. Once he threw me a strike, a pitch I could hit, I hit the ball.”
Geoff Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org