Within an eyelash of consecutive loss No. 8, utility man Luis Rodriguez fouled off numerous change-ups from Toronto reliever Shawn Camp.
A surprise keeper out of spring training, Rodriguez made Josh Wilson expendable for the job of utility man — to be consistent under the most inconsistent of circumstances. Thursday, he had a title change: Hero of the long night.
Rodriguezs 10-pitch at-bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning ended with a game-winning single to finish a stunning rally from 7-0 in the sixth inning. He lofted a change-up into right-center field to cap an improbable 8-7 Mariners win, one of the most unlikely in the club’s history.
Its a long season, Wedge said. Anything can happen. Thats why regardless what type of game youre in, who youre playing or what the hell the score is, you still play the same way.
Rodriguez was in the game only because a smoldering line drive in the second inning deflected off the base of Chone Figgins left thumb. When he dove back to first in the bottom of the third inning, he realized the swelling had reached a point that he would be unable to field ground balls properly. He was done for the night, and is day-to-day because of the bruise. Nothing was broken.
At the time, Figgins injury seemed only to add to what was a dismal night. It certainly didn’t appear that something extraordinary was about to happen.
The thimble-sized crowd watched a wavering Felix Hernandez and the hometown nine, adorned in teal again, butcher offensive opportunities and standard play in the field to fall behind 7-0.
Consecutive loss number eight appeared set in front of a measly 13,056. That shattered the previous Safeco Field attendance low of 14,543 on April 19, 2010.
But they also saw an astonishing, walk-filled rally in the bottom of the eighth inning. That led to an opportunity for a preposterous ninth inning.
The Blue Jays bullpen walked four in the eighth, three that forced in runs. Justin Smoak pulled a single through the left side to score two runs. Suddenly, another uninspired slog was a one-run game, 7-6.
But Miguel Olivo continued his rally-killing evening. Up with one out and runners on first and third, the starting catcher grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, leaving the Mariners a run short. Olivo left 10 runners on base. He made the final out five times.
The Mariners began their game winning rally when Michael Saunders led off with a double. Brendan Ryan bunted him to third. Pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy grounded out to a drawn-in infield. Ichiro was intentionally walked, then stole second.
With runners on second and third Rodriguez fought his way to the win. He was waiting for a change-up throughout the at-bat. He finally turned one into relief for the woebegone Mariners.
“A big win for everybody,” Rodriguez said.
Early, Hernandez alternated between dominant and mashed. Three consecutive strikeouts connected by the end of the first inning and start of the second were followed by a walk and double for Torontos first run.
Then the Mariners made the point that the Three Stooges theme song should be on an endless loop at the start of the season.
They blew a rundown of Jose Bautista when shortstop Ryan was late covering second following the start of a pickle. No blame on Jack Wilson and his on-going learning at second base. He did what he was supposed to, yet the experienced Ryan muffed it.
Aaron Hill doubled two pitches later, elevating Torontos lead to 2-0. Hill eventually scored on a fielders choice. It was 3-0, Hernandezs pitch count was up, attendance and the temperature were down. And it was only the top of the third inning.
Hernandez continued to be smacked around in the fourth. Toronto zipped singles through the right and left side. The Blue Jays pushed in two more runs. Hernandez walked off the mound with disdain after a 4-6-3 double play ended the inning. Toronto led 5-0.
“Every pitch I throw, they were hitting,” Hernandez said. “Sinker was not good. Its one of those nights where you dont have anything.”
Hernandez finished his lackluster night with a strikeout of Bautista. Problem was Corey Patterson hit a two-run home run just prior. Hernandez was done after six innings, seven earned runs and 12 hits allowed.
“That was a good pitch and he hit it hard,” Hernandez said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, its one of those nights.’ ”
His counterpart, Jesse Litsch, was deserving of worse. He inexplicably allowed zero runs despite throwing 111 pitches in five innings. He allowed five hits and walked four. None trotted across the plate.
Hernandez last allowed 12 or more hits Sept. 24, 2008, when he closed the season by allowing 13 hits against the Angels.
Rodriguez rendered that moot, the Mariners picking up Hernandez for once, as opposed to the other way around.
Seattle is 3-8 with Michael Pineda set to dwarf the mound Tuesday night and try to make it two in a row.