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A little bunt goes long way for M's


A little bunt goes long way for M's
Several innings before Yuniesky Betancourt decided this contest with a bunt, a dugout mentor was still giving him instruction on the fine art of sacrificing.

Mariners interim leadoff hitter Endy Chavez saw Betancourt square up to bunt in the fifth inning of Tuesday afternoon's game, only to pull his bat away despite a workable slider and the fact the third baseman was playing back. Chavez had a chat with Betancourt in the dugout afterward, telling him the slider was an optimal pitch to deaden the ball with and that he could not hesitate when conditions were in his favor.

That type of thinking worked for Betancourt in the 10th inning, when a perfect bunt up the third-base line on another slider helped seal a 3-2 victory for the Mariners in their home opener. Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Scot Shields fielded the ball and made a wild throw to first base, enabling Franklin Gutierrez to scamper home with the afternoon's decisive run.

"We practiced that in spring training a lot, so I've been really focused on that," Betancourt said, through an interpreter. "It wasn't a perfect bunt. But I just wanted to get the runner over and do the job."

That runner was Gutierrez, who had led the inning off with a double over the center fielder's head. A sold-out crowd of 45,958 at Safeco Field sensed what Betancourt had to do next.

On a chilly day, with the Mariners having mustered just one hit the previous four innings, it was apparent the home team had to capitalize on a leadoff double. After an early hit by Ken Griffey Jr., feted all day by rousing ovations, and two blown leads, the Mariners' offense had been all but shut down by Angels lefty Darren Oliver.

So Betancourt did not waste his latest opportunity when Shields, a noted sinkerball specialist, offered up a lesser slider instead.

And once again, a little play went a long way for the Mariners , winners of five in a row and now 6-2 to start the season. Much of the team's early success has come from contributions up and down the lineup, including Betancourt, often maligned last season for a lack of focus at the plate and in the field.

Shields probably never should have tried to throw Betancourt out, but failing to do so would have put a runner at third with two chances for a sacrifice fly. The bunt and resulting error made a winner out of relief pitcher Roy Corcoran, who pitched a scoreless 10th inning, and ended the day on a positive note for a Mariners squad that received some standout work by starter Carlos Silva.

The sinker-balling Silva had carried a 2-1 lead into the sixth. But a mammoth solo home run to the second deck in left field by Torii Hunter evened things up 2-2 and denied Silva a chance at his second victory since last April.

"I know it's still early, but I have a lot of confidence that I'm going to have a good year, that we're going to have a good year," said Silva, who retired his first 10 batters faced and allowed just four hits over seven innings. "One of the big reasons is that now, we play as a team. Every time we're behind, everybody's screaming in the dugout. I see my team now, and it's like we have an opportunity to win every single game."

The Mariners quickly recognized the value of having Chavez, a native of Venezuela, give advice on small ball to the Cuban-born Betancourt. The players hit it off, and Betancourt received daily tutorials on bunting and small ball in Spanish from his older teammate.

"I'm trying to help him out to get confidence because I know he's not using it," Chavez said. "Last year, I believe he bunted just once all season."

Chavez put his words into practice in the third inning, dropping a bunt down the first-base line and avoiding a tag by Angels starter Shane Loux for an infield single.

"We talk about it every chance we get," Betancourt said. "He's got a lot of experience in that. Just moving the runners over, doing the little things. He's really helping me out on that."

And helping the Mariners , as well.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 16, 2009

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