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Mariners break through


Mariners break through
Don Wakamatsu ran through a litany of heroes, from pitchers who blew away a good-hitting team to hitters who executed 50-foot bunts. Then the Mariners manager put it in the framework of a bigger picture.

"I guess the message is, we just don't give up," said Wakamatsu. "It was an easy day to go out there and say, `This guy is just unhittable.' "

It would have been a lot easier to say that than to hit Justin Verlander, Detroit's flame-throwing, 26-year-old right-hander, who fired a perfect four innings at the M's Friday night at Safeco Field and looked capable of a second career no-hitter.

But all sorts of things came together for Seattle in the fifth, and the M's rode them toward a 6-3 victory over the Tigers for their eighth victory in 11 games this season.

It was a five-run rally in the fifth by the M's, over an innocent 20 pitches, that undid Verlander after what was shaping up as a possibly magical outing. In a surprising April by a Mariners team that lost 101 games a year ago, this might have been the most arresting night yet, a victory when it looked like they might be absolutely dominated.

"That rally was awesome," said reliever David Aardsma. "I believe in our team, and I know we've got the ability to do that. Now we do it against one of the best pitchers in the league, when he's at his best, you can tell we've got something here."

Wakamatsu talked about a team victory, and this was all of that. He called Adrian Beltre his player of the game, but that honor could have gone to two or three other guys as well.

After Verlander snuffed the M's through four innings, striking out seven, Beltre sliced his 53rd pitch of the night into the right-field corner for a double.

The scouting report on Verlander said to be patient; he had walked six in 8-2/3 innings over his first two starts. But this Verlander wasn't that one. Of his first 30 pitches, 24 were strikes.

"His previous outing, he had a command issue," said Wakamatsu. "[Friday] right out of the gate, he's pumping all three pitches with above-average stuff.

"He had some of the best stuff I've seen over the first five innings."

Well, a little short of five.

"We decided to be more aggressive," Beltre said. "We decided to change our approach."

Two pitches after Beltre's breakthrough, Russell Branyan lined a single, and on the next pitch, Jose Lopez ripped a single to left for the first run. (Branyan left the game after the inning with what the club called a "tight back" and will be re-examined today.)

After Rob Johnson's sacrifice bunt, Yuniesky Betancourt climbed out of an 0-2 hole at the plate and grounded to Brandon Inge at third. Inge threw low to the plate, allowing Branyan to score, and then came one of the game's pivotal plays.

Franklin Gutierrez, in a 6-for-31 start and batting in the No. 9 hole, bunted on his own. Verlander dived to his left; the ball nicked his glove but went for a hit, and Lopez scored to tie it.

"We've given guys the option to do some things like that," said Wakamatsu. "That's why we worked so hard on it in spring training."

Ichiro worked Verlander to 3-2 then dropped a single to center to make the score 4-3. Verlander, no doubt a bit rattled by then, unleashed a wild pitch for the fifth run.

"I thought he had shutout-type stuff tonight," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "That's why it's such a great game. If someone was watching the first four innings and you told them they'd get five runs in the fifth inning, they'd tell you you were crazy."

What remained was all good for the M's: Hernandez pushed through a final inning, the sixth; Shawn Kelley, Aardsma and Brandon Morrow turned in a shutout inning apiece; and the crowd of 35,824 got treated to the sight of Ken Griffey Jr. legging it home from first on Beltre's eighth-inning double.

It wasn't quite Griffey barreling home from first, circa 1995, Yankees series, fifth game. He had to high-step it to avoid a tag by Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, leaving him with some explaining to do for reporters in the locker room.

"My `Deion,' " Griffey grinned, referring to showy ex-NFL cornerback Deion Sanders.

That was the capper, on a night when Hernandez (2-0) was left to conclude in front of his cubicle: "We're going to be special this year."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

FACTS

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Tigers @ Mariners , 6:10 p.m., FSN


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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