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Mariners victory a group effort


Mariners victory a group effort
OAKLAND, Calif. Surveying the clubhouse scene around him, long forgotten in this latest Mariners victory, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez leaned over and whispered an observation.

"I think we're going to be better this year than everybody thinks," he said.

Hernandez can be forgiven for feeling a little optimistic on a Saturday afternoon when his ankle was still pained, his best stuff was missing early and the opposition jumped on him for five runs over five innings.

In years past, that meant instant defeat. On this day, it merely gave Hernandez a front-row dugout seat for an 8-5 comeback victory over the Oakland Athletics that guaranteed the Mariners a winning record on this trip.

No one player was responsible for turning what seemed to be a certain defeat into a third straight road win. A glance around the room found one candidate after another granting media interviews while the front of Hernandez's cubicle, for once, was conspicuously devoid of postgame traffic.

In one corner sat catcher Kenji Johjima, whose drop of a foul pop-up in the fifth inning enabled Jack Cust to hit later in that inning and belt a two-run homer that put Oakland ahead 5-3. The same Johjima, who, in the eighth inning, ripped a sinker from sidearming A's closer Brad Ziegler into left field for a two-run single that put Seattle in front to stay. His hit left 19,560 fans at the Coliseum groaning in disbelief at the rapid turn of events.

They had already seen the Mariners overcome a 3-0 deficit, courtesy of a Russell Branyan solo homer to right field in the fourth inning and a two-run single by Franklin Gutierrez in the fifth.

But Cust's homer in the bottom of the inning was the kind of demoralizing blast that Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu admitted had even caused this year's much pluckier group of Seattle players to sag a little.

But only for a moment.

"There was no excuse," Johjima said, through an interpreter, about his drop of Jason Giambi's towering pop-up, which was followed by an infield hit that prolonged the inning and gave Cust a shot. "I didn't work on the pop-ups during spring training. I worked on a lot of balls in the dirt. But I'm going to have to work on that. And I've talked with the skipper about that as well."

Given the opportunity for redemption, Johjima gladly took it in the eighth.

"I wanted to get the team back into the game because, by dropping that ball, we gave up a two-run bomb that was costing our team the game at the moment," Johjima said. "So, I wanted to do my best to help the team in that at-bat."

Many others shared in the victory.

Miguel Batista threw two shutout innings of one-hit relief, and Mark Lowe survived putting two on with none out in the eighth, then got a double-play grounder to begin his escape. Brandon Morrow followed up in the ninth, retiring boyhood hero Nomar Garciaparra with two on and two out for his second save.

Mike Sweeney giddily bounced from locker to locker after the game, having been allowed to face right-handed reliever Sean Gallagher in the ninth. Sweeney came through with a single for a huge insurance run.

A few feet to Johjima's left sat Jose Lopez, whose two-run double to left off Ziegler launched the four-spot rally in the eighth. Lopez wasn't even supposed to play, but a mild wrist sprain suffered in the first inning had left Wladimir Balentien, the right fielder, unable to swing a bat mid-game.

That meant a bunch of defensive switches and Lopez getting a shot at turning around a game that seemed all-but-over.

"It's 27 outs," Lopez said. "It's not 25, or 24. It's 27."

And that's why Hernandez was smiling as he glanced around the room at teammates. A year ago, some of his games were over the moment he gave up a run or two never mind five.

"I just tried to keep the team in the game," said Hernandez, who struck out eight. "And we came back and won the game. Now, we've got a pretty good team. It's different, yeah, they're good, they can hit and we can score some runs."

More than they gave up in most games this surprising first week.

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 14, 2009

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